Two bills on freedom of expression generate controversy in Russia.
The Russian parliament took the first step to approve two norms that prohibit the “lack of respect” to the authorities and the diffusion of what the government considers as “false news”.
The first prohibition refers to the “evident lack of respect” for the State, its officials and Russian society, and the repeat offenders face a penalty of up to 15 days in jail.
The second bill prohibits distributing “false information of public interest, shared under the pretext of false news,” the state news agency TASS reported.
New crimes carry heavy fines.
President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign the bills once they have received approval from the upper house of the Russian congress, the Federation Council, in mid-March.
What was the reaction?
Journalists, human rights activists and even government ministers expressed opposition to the projects.
Nikolai Svanidze, a journalist and member of Russia’s Civic Chamber, said the legislation is ” outrageous ” and “will make journalists afraid to speak and write.”
The economic information newspaper Vedomosti also criticized the measures and said they could be a threat to online news sites and blogs that cite anonymous sources critical of the government.
But lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party, whose members proposed the bills, defend the rule.
Pavel Krasheninnikov deputy said the laws “guarantee the protection against so -called web – based terrorists” , while his colleague Anatoly Vyborny praised efforts to “discipline l os citizens” and promote “greater responsibility”.
An internet iron curtain?
S teve Rosenberg, BBC correspondent in Moscow
The pro-Kremlin parliamentarians who are behind this legislation to deal with false news and insults on the internet, believe that the rules benefit the Russian people and the state.
But this Thursday’s edition of the Vedomosti newspaper tells a different story: “False concern about society”, titled on its cover.
Critics believe that the projects are part of a growing repression against Internet freedom inspired by the Kremlin.
And they point out another bill under discussion to create a “sovereign internet” . According to the plan, Russian cyberspace could operate independently of the global network.
Many see this as the Russian version of China’s Great Firewall : an internet iron curtain.
As for the draft law on disrespect, earlier this week, the popular newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets summed up the concern in a stark caricature.
It represented a police officer talking to a man who had an ax and there were bodies lying all over the place.
Pointing at the weapon, the policeman says: “Do not worry about that, just make sure you do not write anything bad on the internet about the authorities.”
What are the punishments?
For showing “lack of respect” , first-time violators face fines of up to 100,000 rubles (US $ 1,500).
Repeated infractions could double or even triple the amount in fines, or a 15-day jail sentence.
Penalties for publishing so-called false news vary.
Individuals, officials and companies will face fines of 300,000 rubles (US $ 4,500), 600,000 rubles (US $ 6,000) or 1 million rubles (US $ 15,000), respectively, if the information disseminated affects the “functioning of critical infrastructure” , such as transportation or communications.
Any online article that contains “obvious lack of respect” for the government or “public morality” should be removed within 24 hours.
Traditional media registered with the Ministry of Justice will face fines under the new bogus news bill, while they were originally threatened with losing their licenses.
Unlicensed news sites could be blocked without prior notice by the state media regulator.