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Russian MPs Vote to Limit Wide Swathe of Online Speech

‘Disrespecting’ the government or Russian society could bring a fine or jail time.

7 March 2019

A bill allowing Russian officials to imprison or fine those who disrespect the government or spread damaging news online passed the State Duma Wednesday and is expected to be signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Meduza reports.

 

Under the legislation, registered internet media and ordinary websites will be liable if they publish unverified information that “threatens someone's life and [or] their health or property, or threatens mass public disorder or danger, or threatens to interfere or disrupt vital infrastructure, transport or social services, credit organizations, or energy, industrial, or communications facilities.”

 

The telecoms regulator Roskomnadzor must “instantly” order the outlet to delete the information after becoming aware of it, and can block the site unless the outlet “instantly” obeys the order, Meduza says.

 

The bill also speaks of fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,500) for online posts that demonstrate a “blatant disrespect for society, the country, Russia’s official state symbols, the constitution, or the authorities.” Subsequent violations could bring a fine up to twice that sum or 15 days behind bars,  The Guardian reports.

 

The “fake news” restrictions will not apply to print or broadcast media or to online news aggregators. Individuals, though, can be punished by a fine of up to 400,000 rubles if someone dies as a result of the incorrect news, according to Meduza.

 

Some lawmakers and government officials questioned the law. “One of the tasks of government bodies is to calmly hear out criticism of its work,” Alexei Volin, the deputy communications minister, told the Vedomosti newspaper, The Guardian says.

 

 

  • The bill is the latest in a trend of increasing restrictions on the internet in Russia. In 2017, Putin signed a law banning the use of VPNs to access banned sites, according to CNN.

 

  • In February of this year, Russian legislators discussed a “sovereign internet” bill that would require internet providers to make sure they can still operate if a foreign country attempts to isolate the Russian internet. Critics said the bill was a step toward a ring-fenced internet resembling the Chinese national firewall, according to another CNN report.

 

  • The bill’s author, United Russia lawmaker Andrei Klishas, said it did not amount to censorship. The “fake news” provisions would not be used against independent or opposition websites, he vowed.

Compiled by Eliza Siegel

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