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Russia: Lawmakers Speed to Punish Criticism of the Government and Alleged “Fake News”
Ahead of a vote in Russia’s Federation Council on legislation dramatically increasing fines for online publication of alleged “fake news” and online speech deemed offensive to government institutions and society, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The two draft laws currently up for votes in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament are dangerous and could further restrict speech in the country,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “Because these bills are open to overly broad interpretation, they would allow for selective prosecution by law enforcement. Taking punitive measures against those who express their discontent with the state of affairs in the country is a clear indication that the government prefers to suppress criticism instead of addressing the root causes of problems affecting the Russian people. Rather than rubber-stamping the bills, members of the Federation Council should use constructive ways to acknowledge and address citizen dissatisfaction with government action.”
On March 13, 2019, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, will vote on legislative amendments that create steep fines (from $450 to $15,000) for online dissemination of alleged untruthful information under the guise of facts and for offensive speech against society, the state, and official symbols of the state and government institutions. The amendments also introduce the possibility of 15-day administrative arrest for those accused of repeat slander. They would allow the government to block media websites that fail to delete alleged “fake” information. The Russian Duma, the lower chamber of the parliament, approved the amendments on March 7 with an unusually large opposing vote, following significant criticism of the initial proposals and a softening of certain provisions. If the Federation Council votes in favor of the changes, the bills will need to be signed by the president to become law.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.