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19 Dec, 2019 16:13

Russia only seeks to protect itself from foreign meddling – Putin on ‘sovereign internet’ & ‘foreign agents’ laws

Russia only seeks to protect itself from foreign meddling – Putin on ‘sovereign internet’ & ‘foreign agents’ laws

During his major annual press conference, Putin was asked about two controversial laws regarding ‘sovereign internet’ and ‘foreign agents’ – which have been criticized as big steps towards having a closed society.

The legislation, commonly known as the ‘Sovereign Internet Bill,’ was adopted earlier this year and took effect on November 1. It envisions a system that would ensure the autonomous functioning of the Russian-language segment of the global web in case of a global internet shutdown. Critics of the law, however, expressed concern that the government might use it to impose strict control over the web, manipulating the flow of information and censoring online content.

Though senior Russian officials have repeatedly denied these accusations, President Vladimir Putin was nevertheless asked about the goals of the law during his annual ‘big press conference’ on Thursday.

“Free internet and sovereign internet are not mutually exclusive concepts. The law is aimed only to prevent negative consequence of being potentially cut off from the global web, which controls are located primarily abroad,” Putin stated, dismissing allegations of conspiring to impose strict state control over the web.

We are not moving towards an internet shutdown and are not seeking to do so.

Russia’s President was also asked about another legislation, that also prompted a similar scare of the state tightening its grip on the society – the law on ‘foreign agents’ and its amendments.

The law, which introduced the mandatory designation of ‘foreign agent’, was initially focused on foreign-funded NGOs, but later its scope was expanded to media outlets. Organizations designated as ‘foreign agents’ are obliged to disclose their leadership architecture, their spending, as well as undergoing frequent audits. Late this year, the law was expanded again, now affecting private individuals, too.

The legislation still requires certain improvements, the Russian president said, warning against a “broad interpretation” of it, especially regarding private individuals, to not harm actual humanitarian work. The law was expanded to private individuals since foreign-funded organizations have been trying to circumvent the restrictions – they have started receiving money from locals, who, in turn, receive cash from abroad, Putin explained.

If you get money from abroad to partake in domestic political activities – say so explicitly. He who pays the piper calls the tune, you know. And if you receive funding from abroad, there are strong reasons to believe you are taking orders from those who pay you.

Every nation seeks to protect itself from foreign meddling, and the legislation has been designed as a tool to minimize that influence, Putin said. Similar legislation exists in many countries, and the ‘foreign agent’ designation itself originated from the US, where it has been in active use since the late 1930s, he noted. Unlike in the US, however, the repercussions in Russia for not being registered as a foreign agent while acting as one are very mild – organizations and individuals are only subject to fines, Putin added, bringing up the case of Russian gun activist Maria Butina.

“[In the US] it affects private individuals as well. Our citizen Maria Butina is a private individual. Yet she was thrown behind bars without any reason. What kind of agent is she? She’s nowhere near being one. But she was jailed, spent time behind bars – and was even threatened with a lengthy prison term.”

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