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Russia: Putin signs 'foreign agent' law

December 30, 2020

The law builds upon initial legislation from 2012 that targeted foreign-backed NGOs. Rights groups believe it is being broadened to tighten the Kremlin's grip on the media ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the new law on WednesdayImage: Mikhail Klimentyev/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law on Wednesday that critics say tightens his grip over the country's media.

The law hands authorities new powers to label individuals "foreign agents" and hand them jail terms of five years if they fail to report their activities correctly.

The new legislation builds upon a law first brought in 2012 that would allow officials to label foreign-backed NGOs engaged in political activity as "foreign agents."

The term carries negative Soviet-era connotations in Russia.

Rights groups say it is merely a tool to stifle dissent and harass civil society groups, journalists and bloggers.

An anti-Putin protest in Moscow in 2019.
An anti-Putin protest in Moscow in 2019.Image: DW/E. Barysheva

The legislation now states that individual gathering information concerning defense that could be used against Russia's national security would also be subject to the designation.

It also bans such people from holding positions in the civil service and subject them to bureaucratic scrutiny and spot checks.

Putin's approval follows both the lower and the upper house of parliament giving their backing.

Russia's Ministry of Justice added five people, including veteran rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, to its list of media "foreign agents" on Monday, the first time individuals have been targeted under legislation used against media outlets.

Amnesty Internationalsaid the move would "drastically limit and damage the work not only of civil society organizations that receive funds from outside Russia but many other groups as well."

Human Rights Watch said the changes to the law would provide Russian officials with more ways to harass opposition politicians and independent media.

Activists believe the crackdownis being launched ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

jf/rt (AFP, Reuters)

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