In January, I blogged about the Kyiv Post’s decision to block access to its website for users in the United Kingdom. An energy magnate had sued the paper in a British court over articles that quoted criticisms of his company by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The UK’s notorious libel law, now under review, allows anyone with a reputation to protect in Britain to file suit there if the damaging material was available to readers in the UK.
I got word last week from Brian Bonner, the Post’s chief editor, that the suit had been thrown out and the ban subsequently lifted (although the story in question will still not be available to readers in the UK). “The judge’s ruling suggests that ‘libel tourism’ is frowned upon and changes to libel law are in the offing. So, our lawyers thought it was a safe enough move,” Bonner told me in an email.
I guess that’s what happens when wise judge meets outdated and abused law.
For another look at legal hijinks in Ukraine, where this story originated, read this piece by Valery Kalnysh, deputy editor of Kommersant Ukraina, that appeared on openDemocracy. As many of you undoubtedly know, prosecutors have charged former President Leonid Kuchma with abuse of office for his alleged role in the abduction and murder of journalist Georgii Gongadze in 2000.
The actual perpetrators have been tried, but the question of who ordered the murder has not been adjudicated. Kalnysh argues that the case against Kuchma is a cynical ploy that won’t result in his being sent to jail because the statute of limitations has run out and because the post-Soviet leaders of Ukraine have made too many deals among themselves for something like that to happen.
But the charges do give Kyiv a nice-looking fig leaf with which to cover up increasing accusations of politicized justice. Noting that the case was filed just before a trip by Tymoshenko to Brussels to discuss that issue, Kalnysh writes:
So the opening of the criminal case is very timely for the authorities. Kuchma is pleased, because in the end he will be able to ‘prove’ that he played no part in the Gongadze murder. Europe will be pleased: it will sigh and allow itself to relax in the illusion that in Ukraine all is not as black as it’s painted by the opposition. Yanukovych will be pleased, because Kuchma and Europe are pleased and because Tymoshenko will be furious at the upsetting of her plans to tour the European Union ‘telling the truth.’
Photo of Leonid Kuchma from Agencia Brasil. Used under a Creative Commons license.