Marcelo Gerpe's photograph of a statue in a gardenKIEV, Ukraine – Despite protests from free-speech advocates and other broad segments of the population, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (bottom photo) on Tuesday signed into law strict new legislation than bans pornography.

Passed June 11 by a 343-to-107 vote in Parliament, the law prescribes penalties including heavy fines and up to three years imprisonment for anyone convicted of possessing, selling or disseminating prohibited material.

The problem, according to critics, is the law does not define exactly what is prohibited. Instead, it leaves the determination up to police and the courts.

Long seen as a major source of child pornography, Ukraine has been a focus of human-rights activists and child-protection advocates for years. However, even they complain the bill Yushchenko signed fails to prevent child exploitation. Instead, it seems poised to allow abuses by law enforcement and punishment of law-abiding artists, they said.

“Any one of us can now be punished for possessing very simple images, if somebody defines them as pornography,” Lyusya Komarnytska, an art exhibition manager, told the Kyiv Post.

Viktor_YushchenkoShe also said private citizens may feel compelled to throw away their personal film and art collections out of fear the police will demand bribes in order to drop trumped-up “anti-pornography cases.”

The owner of one Kiev art gallery mounted an exhibition of erotic art as a protest against the new law. The two-week show began June 23. So far, he has had no trouble, and he thinks that indicates most of the country disagrees with the actions of the president and Parliament.

“The president demonstrated he doesn’t understand the principles of democracy,” Evhen Karas told the Kyiv Post. “A person needs to know the truth and build personal morality on the basis of truth, not illusions developed by a state ban.”

According to a lawmaker and former law enforcement official, only about 70 pornography cases have been prosecuted annually in Ukraine. Hennadiy Moskal said he does not expect that to change.

(Top Image: Marcelo Gerpe)