Defamation suit against Committee of Voters representative

On 20 November Yuliy Ioffe lodged a defamation suit demanding 1 million UAH moral damages against the Head of the Luhansk Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] Oleksy Svyetikov. The politician objected to an article by Svyetikov published back on 12 February this year. The article stated that Ioffe is a member of the group around Dmytro Firtash and the head of the President’s Administration Serhiy Lyovochkin.

The claimant denies this and is demanding both retraction of the statement and moral compensation. In his response, Oleksy Svyetikov states that he was expressing his opinon in the article and that furthermore he does not see how such information could compromise the claimant.

KHPG points out that the dispute arose before the election campaign when Ioffe was a likely parliamentary candidate. He later did indeed run for election in the constitutency predicted in the article.

According to European Court of Human Rights case law, there is narrow scope for restrictions according to Article 10 § 2 of the Eruopean Convention on Human Rights with regard to political speeches and debates on issues concerning election campaigns. Moreover the boundaries of admissible criticism are broader for a person seeking electoral office than for other members of the public. In a democratic system the behaviour and views of a candidate should be subject to scrutiny not only from the legislative and court bodies, but also from the public.

The KHPG Council points out that the article objected to in fact is typicall of political polemic, does not contain any offensive or even any strong opinions regarding future candidates. The fact that an MP has lodged such a suit therefore elicits concern regarding the level of tolerance of the highest legislative body in the country.

The clearly disproportionate amount sort in compensation also arouses fear that the law suit has in fact been lodged tin order to change the position of the respondent to one less critical. Defamation suits were used as a powerful instrument of pressure on people who expressed independent views during the 1990s. Later, thanks to training of judges, lawyers and journalists, changes to legislation and judgements from the European Court of Human Rights, the situation changed markedly.

The suit lodged by Party of the Regions MP Yuliy Ioffe against Oleksy Svyetikov may indicate an increase in pressure on the public in order to restrict freedom of expression.

KHPG will be following the proceedings and considers this a strategic litigation. If the law suit is successful in Ukraine, one can confidently predict that the European Court of Human Rights will find that there has been a violoation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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