Russian MPs ban insulting government
The Kremlin-controlled lower house issued fines of US$15,000 for publishing material disrespectful of the state, its symbols and government organisations. Repeat offenders could face a 15-day prison sentence.
Individuals would face fines of up to US$6,000 for posting content that is considered fake news.
Another bill demanded that websites remove any information that showed “clear disrespect” to the society, state, symbols, constitution or government. Internet service providers and website owners would have 24 hours to remove “insults” or face being shut down.
The bill would block the publishing of “fake news” online that could “threaten” public health and security. Any “false, publicly important information” that a government agency deemed to be a threat to public order could be outlawed.
President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign the legislation into law once approved by the upper house, the Federation Council.
Last month, MPs proposed creating the infrastructure to separate Russia from the internet altogether.
This week’s legislation is being seen as further efforts to stifle criticism and tighten state control.
Last year, the authorities banned Telegram, a popular messaging mobile application.
The wording was “vague as possible”, Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition MP, posted on Facebook. “It will create possibilities for the widest possible arbitrariness for law enforcement. As a result, the society’s trust in the government will fall down and the public atmosphere will be poisoned.”
Communist MP Alexei Kurinnyi said the authorities could use the legislation to punish critics.
“Dear colleagues, let’s ask ourselves, why do people believe the so-called fake news? Apparently, it’s because they don’t trust the government, the official sources, because the government – especially lately – has been telling lies,” Kurinnyi told the chamber.
“It lies unapologetically, providing unauthentic information, but it never faces any consequences.”
Nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said the authorities needed to “fight lies that lead to revolutions and wars” but added that his party would not support what he called insufficiently prepared legislation.
Russian trust in government and Putin has been steadily declining, according to polling. For the first time since the seizure of Crimea in 2014, the proportion of Russians who say the country is heading in the wrong direction has surpassed those who disagree. The finding came in a poll in January by the independent firm Levada.
The Russian State Duma. Picture credit: Kremlin