Morality Commission nominated for “Thistle of the Year” Anti-Award 2009

The National Expert Commission on the Protection of Public Morality has the dubious honour of being the first nomination for Thistle of the Year. This is awarded each year by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union to the worst violators of human rights in Ukraine during that year.  Since violations are many and varied, there is, unfortunately, more than one category, and the National Commission has been nominated for “actions which stifle freedom of expression”.

The nomination has been submitted by Volodymyr Yavorsky who accuses the National Commission of attempts to restrict freedom of expression via direct or indirect bans on films, television programmes, books, etc. He complains that:

  • the Law on the Protection of Public Morality is extremely vague, broad, and unforeseeable, making it difficult for people to predict what behaviour is against the law;
  • grounds are not presented for the decisions of the Commission and its assessments are not made public. These opinions are also not well-argued, often containing a mere description of the image, with a general statement that this is not in keeping with the Law on Public Morality. The person involved is virtually never informed of the review and does not have the opportunity to present their position;
  • the normative acts of the Commission which restrict freedom of expression are not registered with the Ministry of Justice, and not made public;
  • a large number of events and material cannot be circulated without a positive assessment from the Commission.  This, Mr Yavorsky asserts, is difficult given the above-mentioned failings in the Law, but any prior control over the issue of information or products is clear censorship.
  • there is a serious legal problem in appealing against the Commission’s assessments. This is because, in contravention of the law, courts consider the expert assessments to be recommendatory, and they cannot therefore be revoked by a court. This problem is exacerbated since the assessments are not approved via Commission decisions which can be appealed against.

Mr Yavorsky believes that the activities of the National Commission are expanding and becoming ever more dangerous for freedom of expression.

He cites the following examples

  1. Decision No. 1 from 27 August 2009 which states that the book by Valery Korovin “On the eve of the empire” does not comply with legislation on public morality since it contains information calling to a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and “places in doubt its sovereignty”.  He believes that it is not clear what relation this has to public morality, and that the term about sovereignty is unclear since the law bans only violent acts which encroach upon the country’s territorial integrity;
  2. Decision No. 4 from 27 August 2009 which finds No. 3 of the journal “Private” pornographic and therefore prohibited, yet gives no justification for this decision nor any explanation as to which images or texts led to this assessment.
  3. Decision No. 9 from 27 August 2009 which finds video clips promoting safe sex as part of a “Don’t give AIDS a chance!” with an advertising slogan “Any sex is good if it’s protected” as being “in violation of ethical norms and capable of harming the moral health of the population”  No arguments are provided.
  4. Decision No. 13 from 16 July 2009 which banned viewing of the film “Bruno” which the Commission decision was pornographic. Once again no justification for this view was provided. Mr Yavorsky points out that according to previously approved criteria for qualifying works as pornographic, any images of homosexual relations are pornography, this in itself being discrimination.
  5. Decision No. 8 from 24 June 2009 which banned the film “Hostel – 2” which the Commission claimed promotes a cult of violence and cruelty. Why this particular film was singled out is not clear.

In February 2009 the Commission issued an assessment of the novel by the well-known writer Oles Ulyanenko “The Woman of his dreams” finding it pornographic. Because the assessment was not affirmed by a Commission Decision, it could not be appealed in court, yet the novel has been banned for publication in the country (see ).

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