The Russian media freedom climate has worsened since the Duma passed laws enabling Internet censorship and requiring organizations receiving international funding to label themselves as "foreign agents," Michael Posner, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for human rights, said on Wednesday.
“The more globalized our world has become, the more critical is the free flow of news and information to our policies, our economies, and the ability of citizens in every country to make informed decisions about their own lives,” Posner said at a meeting of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
“And so we are deeply concerned about the worsening climate for media freedom in Russia. Earlier this month the Duma passed laws enabling Internet censorship and re-criminalizing defamation. The Duma has also discussed labeling news outlets that are funded internationally as “foreign agents” – a stigmatizing term now also applied to NGOs,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signed a law forcing non-government organizations (NGOs) engaged in political activity with foreign financing to be branded as "foreign agents." The law, which has caused huge concern among activists who fear it will be used to stigmatise critical NGOs, was signed by Putin after it was rushed through the lower and upper houses of parliament before the summer break. The law will come into force from November.
Under the new legislation, NGOs will have to publish a biannual report on their activities and carry out an annual financial audit. Failure to comply with the law could result in four-year jail sentences and/or fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($9,200).
Last week, parliament also passed bills on blacklisting undesirable Internet sites and making defamation a criminal offence, which have raised concerns about a general clampdown on civil society. But Putin has yet to sign these two other pieces of legislation into law.