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16 Dec, 2021 18:06

Russia could tighten 'foreign agent' rules

Russia could tighten 'foreign agent' rules

A group of legislators in Russia’s parliament has said that the country’s ‘foreign agent’ laws, which have drawn criticism from media outlets for allegedly violating freedom of speech, could be expanded even further.

A commission of lawmakers in the Federation Council, the upper house, released a report on Wednesday in which they rejected accusations that the measures infringe on civil rights, and suggested that they could be tightened if shown to be helpful to law enforcement.

The laws’ critics “usually cite ‘infringement of rights,’” the commission wrote. “But the proposed legislation doesn’t prohibit activity in itself, only in cases when it is unregistered.” The report references what the authors call an equivalent law in the US, a Cold War-era measure known as FARA. “Once the law enforcement research has been collected, it’s possible that the law will be refined and expanded.”

The senators pointed out that this legislation had been introduced in November 2020.

“On the one hand, the law provides for the national security of the Russian Federation,” they went on. “On the other, it doesn’t excessively infringe on the action of those who report financing from foreign sources (if this financing doesn’t fall into the category of ‘espionage’ according to the Russian criminal code).”

The laws put restrictions on organizations in Russia that receive foreign funding, including requiring them to register as ‘foreign agents’ and to append this label to all their published material. Media outlets have condemned the measures as overly restrictive, and in August, a group of journalists published an open letter decrying what they called “the persecution of independent journalism in this country.”

Earlier this month, Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year, called for the abolition of foreign agent laws in both Russia and the US. He noted that the Moscow authorities often cite American laws as justification for their own, and said that in Russia, the label “comes across as ‘enemies of the people.’”

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he thought the laws should be reviewed with input from the “professional community,” and admitted that some examples of their application were “comical, a completely excessive response.”