Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Wednesday passed a new law that will make it easier for authorities to label domestic critics "foreign agents," a key tool to clamp down on dissent.
The State Duma said in a statement that the measures will make it possible "to defend the interests and to ensure the security of the Russian Federation." The legislation is expected to enter into force on December 1.
Since 2012, Russia has used the "foreign agent" tag, which is reminiscent of the "enemies of the people" of the Soviet era, to identify individuals and entities it believes are engaged in political activities with foreign funding.
Under the new bill, which needs to be reviewed by the upper house and signed by President Vladimir Putin before going into effect, people designated as "foreign agents" are barred from receiving any state financial support. They also must disclose sources of funding, undergo audits, and accompany all their text messages, videos and social media posts with a caption.
New interpretation of 'foreign agent'
The new legislation expanded the interpretation of the term "foreign agent." Anyone "under foreign influence" or receiving any kind of support from abroad can now be declared a "foreign agent" in Russia.
This support could involve other forms of organizational, methodological, scientific, technical or other assistance, apart from funds or property, according to the law. It means that individuals can be listed as "foreign agents" even if they have not received money.
The circle of potential targets to be labeled "foreign agents" was also expanded. Blogging can become a basis for inclusion in the register. It is not even necessary to create your own content. The law provides penalties only for "spreading opinions" about decisions made by the authorities.
New restrictions and another register
The new law also introduces 18 new prohibitions for "foreign agents." Such individuals will be prohibited from teaching in public schools and organizing public events, taking part in political campaigns and funding political parties, among other activities.
Another amendment provides for the creation of a separate register for "persons affiliated with foreign agents." According to the bill's co-author, Andrei Lugovoy, these may include relatives or other people who help them carry out their activities.
Roskomnadzor, Russia's media watchdog, will receive the power to block "foreign agent" websites at the request of the Justice Ministry without waiting for a court decision.
DW is a 'foreign agent' in Russia
The foreign agent list currently numbers 167 individuals and legal entities such as nonprofits, news organizations and individual Russian citizens, including journalists and activists.
In March, DW was also listed in Russia as a "foreign agent."It was forced to shutter its Moscow office and its journalists in Russia had to relinquish their accreditation, making it impossible to work there. In early March, DW's website was blocked by Roskomnadzor. Shortly after, DW moved its Moscow office to the Latvian capital of Riga.
In June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said a "foreign agent" law violates its human rights convention. Although Russia has long been a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, it was expelled from the Council of Europe in March after invading Ukraine. As a result, Russia will cease to be a "contracting party" to the convention in September, and Russian citizens will no longer be able to lodge cases alleging government rights abuses with the ECHR.
Moscow has stepped up efforts to stamp out dissent since President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to invade Ukraine on February 24. The new measures came during an unprecedented clampdown on dissenting voices in Russia, with most opposition activists either in jail or out of the country.
dh/sms (AFP, Reuters)