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SOVIETS EASE CURBS ON CRITICISM OF OFFICIALS
UNPLEASANT TRUTH ISN'T OFFENSE, COURT RULES

People whose criticism of officials or government agencies amounts to the unpleasant truth cannot be jailed for speaking out, the Supreme Court has ruled in limiting the enforcement scope of a widely assailed new decree.

The decree, enacted April 8, bans discrediting of officials and government bodies. Reformers and human rights activists have condemned it as being open to abuse."Well-founded, argumentative criticism of the action and decisions of these organs and officials by citizens, acting publicly in the framework of socialist law, cannot be viewed as a criminally punishable act," the court said on Monday.

President Mikhail S. Gorbachev is seeking to strengthen the role of law in Soviet society, and Monday's ruling constitutes one of the rare times the court has acted to ensure a controversial law is applied consistently.

The official Tass news agency said that since the leadership of the Supreme Soviet, or parliament, passed the decree citizens have been arrested under differing interpretations of the law.

The Supreme Court told lower courts the decree touches only "intentional public distribution of slanderous inventions" that undermines faith in officials.

The ruling represents an effort to protect officials from insults and slander and protect the rights of individuals to express their views, the court said.

Tass did not say how many criminal cases have been filed on the basis of the new law.