A far-right nationalist movement won a defamation lawsuit against a Ukrainian media outlet that had described it as “neo-Nazi,” sparking worries over the integrity of freedom of speech in the post-communist state.
A Kiev judge ordered the online outlet Hromadske to pay the C14 group $137 and publicize the ruling, which the news organization’s attorney called “incorrect and illegal,” according to The Kyiv Post.
C14 is an extremist group that spun off from the anti-Semitic Svoboda party whose leader, Yevhen Karas, has listed Russians, Jews and Poles as enemies. C14 denies that it is a neo-Nazi organization, though its social media accounts have heavily featured white nationalist and Nazi symbolism. Its members also were involved in a series of attacks, described by some as pogroms, against members of Ukraine’s Roma minority.
“Other organizations such as Reuters and the Washington Post, along with government bodies, such as the British Parliament, have referred to C14 in a similar manner,” Hromadske reported in an article about its case. “Human rights organizations, such as the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, have referred to C14 as ‘neo-Nazi,’ too.”
But the group insisted they are not neo-Nazis, and claimed to the court that being labeled as such tarnished their reputation.
“The position of C14 is that they are not a neo-Nazi group in their activities or in the nature of their activities,” attorney Victor Moroz was quoted by Hromadske TV as saying. “They are a nationalist group, but they are by no means neo-Nazi.”
He said that calling the organization “neo-Nazi” harmed the “business reputation” of the group.
Hromadske’s attorney, Oksana Tchaikovska, blasted the judge’s decision.
“The decision is incorrect and illegal, it introduces an egregious tendency that suppresses freedom of speech. We will appeal it,” Tchaikovska was quoted as telling the Kyiv Post.
Hromadske TV’s editor in chief, Angelina Karyakina, told the Post she was “surprised by the decision.”
Harlem Désir, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on freedom of the media, also expressed “concern” about the ruling, saying it “goes against #mediafreedom and could discourage journalistic work.”
Meanwhile, journalist Michael Colborne, an expert on the Ukrainian far right, tweeted: “Odd that the neo-Nazis from C14 won’t try and sue me or any of the other outlets I’ve called them neo-Nazis in, or this tweet right now calling them neo-Nazis, or the article I’m writing right now where I’ll be calling them neo-Nazis, again.”