Russia can identify independent journalists and bloggers as “foreign agents” after altering a controversial law.
The term “foreign agent” is already used to describe some media outlets and NGOs that participate in politics and accept funds from overseas.
The EU, Amnesty International, and the OSCE international security organization have all denounced the modified law.
Political dissidents in the Soviet Union were referred to as “foreign agents” in jest.
The revised “foreign agent” media law was signed by President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
Russia says the original media bill, introduced in 2017, was its response to a US requirement for Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT to register as a foreign agent in the US.
However, the 2012 introduction of the first “foreign agent” law targeted non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as charities and civil society organizations, that receive foreign funds and participate in political activities in Russia.
Russia’s justice ministry designated Memory, a renowned documentarian of human rights violations, as a “foreign agent” in 2015.
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The Navalny Foundation is deemed a “foreign agency” by Russia.
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A “foreign agent” designation has also been given to Alexei Navalny’s anti-Putin advocacy group.
Organizations and now people designated as “foreign agents” are required to include that designation on publications and provide the authorities with extensive documentation, or risk fines.
Leonid Levin and Pyotr Tolstoy, two members of parliament, guided the media bill through the Duma, the lower house of parliament.
Hundreds of protesters were arrested this year, according to the media description.
According to Mr. Levin, two requirements must be met in order for someone to be classified as a “foreign agent”: they must be creating or disseminating content from a “foreign agent” media source and they must be receiving funds from abroad.
Retweeting “foreign agency” news, according to him, only qualifies someone as a “foreign agent” if they are also receiving foreign funds.
‘Chilling’ impact warnings
The new law has received a chorus of criticism from human rights organizations.
The rule “represents an excessive interference in the freedom of expression and media freedom,” according to OSCE media freedom representative Harlem Désir.
It might have a significant chilling impact on journalists, bloggers, specialists, and anybody else who publishes information, especially online.
The act “imposes an additional administrative and financial burden, as well as stigmatizes the media or Organization concerned, therefore impeding the exercise of basic freedoms,” according to Maja Kocijancic, spokesman for the EU’s External Action Service (EEAS).
“Considering the already constrained space for free media in the nation, a further enlargement of the legislative scope is yet another disturbing step against free and independent media and access to information, as well as a subsequent attempt to stifle independent voices in Russia,” she said.
According to Amnesty International, the proposal “must be abandoned” since it will worsen Russia’s already constrictive climate for independent journalists.