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Ukrainian Wikipedia against the libel bill

On September 18, 2012, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine passed at first reading the bill No. 11 013, “On Amendments to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine on toughening punishments for the infringement of the honor, dignity and business reputation of a person” by Regions Party MP Vitaliy Zhuravsky, which proposes to criminalize insult and libel.

Ukrainian Wikipedians strongly condemn the passing of the bill. In protest against the bill, all pages of the Ukrainian Wikipedia will carry the banner “We have the right to know: Wikipedia says “No!” to the libel bill”. This action starts on September 30, 2012, at 21:00 UTC and is declared to be open-ended until the rejection of the bill.

If the bill is adopted, there will be a real danger for freedom of speech, because the draft bill does not state a clear definition of libel, the limits of the law, or the persons who fall within its scope. It introduces criminal liability for libel, which is a violation of freedom of speech, guaranteed by the Article 34 of the Constitution of Ukraine, according to which every person has the right to freedom of opinion and speech, assembly, and the use and dissemination of information in any form. We want to recall that such legislative provisions existed in the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian SSR of 1960 in the form of the Article 125 “Slander”. That provision was removed as undemocratic in the new version of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (adopted in 2001).

In addition, if the bill is adopted, it will no longer be possible to use publications from the media in Wikipedia articles, since it is impossible to determine what information could constitute libel. As a result, Ukrainian Wikipedians will be obliged to use only official biographies of people. This directly contradicts one of the most important principles of Wikipedia, according to which all points of view on the subject of the article should be presented.

This legislation suggests that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is trying to impose censorship in Ukraine by using the libel law to prevent criticism of the government. The law applies to all citizens of Ukraine, including users of Ukrainian Wikipedia.

In case of further attempts to pass the bill No. 11013, users of the Ukrainian Wikipedia reserve the right to conduct a blackout of the Ukrainian Wikipedia in protest against its adoption.

The Wikimedia Ukraine Community Association appeals to the President of Ukraine, Prime Minister of Ukraine, the Head of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, and the members of parliament with a request not to adopt the libel bill and to reject it as being contrary to the Constitution of Ukraine. We express our concern about legislation that introduces restrictions on the right to inform society about socially important people and events and impedes the spread of free knowledge in Ukraine. We express our solidarity with journalists and society who oppose the adoption of the libel bill.

We ask the editors of other language sections of Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation and the local Wikimedia chapters to support us in the fight against censorship in Ukraine.

We want to recall that on October 4, 2011, the Italian Wikipedia went on strike against the Italian Parliament bill "DDL intercettazioni", which contained a provision requiring websites to remove information that in the opinion of any person is not true. On January 18, 2012, the English-language Wikipedia was blacked out in protest against the U.S. House of Representatives' “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the U.S. Senate's “PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA) that proposed to close websites that contain any content that violates copyright or that distribute information about persons without their consent, and to prosecute the owners of those websites. On July 10, 2012, the Russian Wikipedia went on strike against the bill No. 89417-6, which proposed to create a list of blocked sites and IP-addresses.

Threats

Free encyclopedia

If the bill is adopted, any person who considers information about him in Wikipedia to be untrue and defamatory will be able to sue users of Wikipedia for libel. Besides, this person will be able to qualify Wikipedian's activity as felony, even if user only conveys information which was already published in an independent reliable source since limits of the law and persons who fall within its scope are not specifically defined.

Neutral point of view

Bill is opposing the principle of neutral point of view. This principle means that information not mentioned in official biography or press-release, but approved with independent reliable sources can be added to Wikipedia with the source link. According to the bill a prosecution can be provided for such activity.

Reliable sources

According to some comments of MP's having voted for this bill and representatives of Ukrainian mass media there are reasons to believe that this bill targets the journalists. Thereby the variety of sources for Wikipedia is narrowing because users of Wikipedia can not find out whether information in media is defamatory or not.

Biographies of living people

If the bill is adopted, Wikipedians will eventually avoid creating and editing articles about living people because of fear to be prosecuted for libel or will only post official information which is not enough according to the principle of neutral point of view. This can create a situation when thousands of articles about living people will contain irrelevant or biased information which will negatively affect the development of Ukrainian Wikipedia.

Out of politics

As we see from the experience of Italian, English and Russian Wikipedias, in cases of danger for functioning of Wikipedia or for its users Wikipedia community can take such action as protest against the threats.