Russian lawmakers passed a series of bills Thursday to punish online media and journalists for spreading “fake news” and for disrespecting authorities, including President Vladimir Putin.
The State Duma adopted the bills in a third and final reading and sent them to the upper house Federation Council for consideration, Moscow News reports. If passed, they will go to Putin for his signature.
The “fake news” bill bans the spread of “unreliable socially-important information” that could “endanger lives and public health, raise the threat of massive violation of public security and order or impede functioning of transport and social infrastructure, energy and communication facilities and banks.”
An increasingly outspoken group of Russian free speech and internet activists planned to protest the bill in Moscow on Sunday — the latest expression of public concern over constraints on the internet. At least 8,000 people turned out in Moscow last April when authorities tried to block access to the popular messaging app Telegram.
The ban on “fake news” was adopted 322 to 78, with lawmakers from A Just Russia, the Communist Party, and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party opposed. The bill penalizing those who insult authorities passed 327-40 with one lawmaker abstaining, according to RFE/RL.
The proposed law exempts traditional organizations including newspapers, television networks and radio stations.
Under the law, online news outlets would face fines from $450 to $15,000 for disseminating “false information that is socially under the guise of accurate reports,” according to Moscow News.
Showing “obvious disrespect” for authorities, including Putin, as well as state symbols, carries fines up to $5,000 and 15 days in jail for repeat offenders.
If “fake news” or posts disrespectful of authorities are not immediately and voluntarily deleted, the online news outlets can be legally blocked by the telecommunications watchdog, Roskomnadzor.
Internet service providers will also be forced to block access to content that “offends human dignity and public morality,” CNN reports.
Three weeks ago, the Duma, or lower house, passed the “Sovereign Internet” bill that calls for Russian internet traffic and data to be rerouted through state-controlled points. It would also set up a domestic Domain Name System to allow the internet to continue functioning in Russia even if it is cut off from foreign infrastructure, RFE/RL reports.
Proponents argued that the bill would give more independence to the Russian segment of the internet and help guard the country against potential cyberattacks.
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