The Russian Parliament wound up its spring session with the approval of several “repressive” bills designed to help the Kremlin crack down on a growing civic protest movement, according to opposition leaders.
Before going on a summer recess on Monday the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, rushed through three controversial laws — one that could result in censorship of the internet, another that imposes tough rules on foreign-funded nongovernmental groups and one more that makes defamation a criminal offense.
The Information Act purports to combat child pornography, suicide how-to instructions and narcotics propaganda but leaves the opportunity to blacklist whole domains when only part of the hosted content is illegal.
The Russian-language version of Wikipedia went on strike to protest against the internet bill, while Russia’s biggest search engine Yandex said it “creates room for possible misuse.”
With national television channels under Kremlin control, the internet has played a crucial role in the rise of mass anti-government protests in recent months.
The bill on the NGOs which receive foreign funding and engage in “political activity” requires them to register as “foreign agents” and to submit quarterly financial reports — a costly procedure that could force smaller NGOs to close down. In Russia, where local business is afraid to finance opposition activity, foreign funds are often the only lifeline for independent NGOs.
The State Duma, dominated by Kremlin loyalists, also endorsed a bill that drastically hikes fines for “misinformation purposefully disseminated to damage a reputation” to 5 million roubles ($156,000) from 3,000 roubles. The law reintroduces defamation as a criminal offence, barely six months after it was decriminalised under former President Dmitry Medvedev. People found guilty under the new rules may also face a maximum of 480 hours’ community service.
The three bills approved this week came on the heels of a law that drastically raised fines for staging non-sanctioned protests or violating the rules for a demonstration.
Opposition leaders condemned the bills as “repressive” and aimed at silencing protests against the authoritarian political system in Russia which brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Moscow and other cities in the past few months.