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ARTICLE 19 outlines six reasons why defamation reform fails to protect free expression

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 29 November 2011 - Recent amendments to Russia's defamation legislation - including partial decriminalisation of libel and insult - will not improve the situation for journalists and the media in the country. Despite the amendments, the state retains its powers to control speech by introducing administrative responsibility for libel and insult. The new provisions in the Code of Administrative Offenses are as dangerous as the repealed provisions of the Criminal Code as they are vague and provide for harsh administrative sanctions.

On 17 November 2011, the Russian State Duma (Parliament) repealed Articles 129 and 130 of the Criminal Code which provided for the criminalisation of defamation and insult. Articles 129 and 130 failed to meet international standards on the right to freedom of expression. In addition to allowing criminal liability for defamation with sentences such as imprisonment, correctional labour and high criminal fines, the Articles also provided for heightened responsibility for defamatory statements made in the media.

On numerous occasions, ARTICLE 19 has expressed its concerns about the abusive and arbitrary use of these provisions by the authorities to suppress criticism and hinder investigative journalism in Russia. These concerns have been shared by other organisations. For example, in 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) criticised the high number of defamation lawsuits against journalists in Russia. According to a PACE report, as many as 8-10,000 defamation cases a year had been filed against journalists and media outlets for defamation and other issues. Moreover, the European Court of Human Rights had persistently found that Russian judges failed to properly balance the right to freedom of expression with the right to reputation and ignored established international standards and safeguards for the right to freedom of expression in the application of defamation legislation.

The reform of Russia's defamation legislation was necessary and long awaited. Unfortunately, the legislative amendments adopted by the State Duma do not improve the situation overall and will not improve the position of the right to freedom of expression or media freedom in Russia.

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