Week-ending 19 February 2021
On 16 February 2021 the State Duma approved in final reading a bill that would provide for ‘foreign agents’ to be fined up to 2,500 rubles ($34) for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles ($6,800) for legal entities for breaching the labelling requirements of the law. Organisations branded as ‘foreign agents’ and working without being registered as such could face fines of up to 5 million rubles ($68,000). Reporters without Borders (RSF) condemned the new amendments as ‘Kafkaesque.’ ‘These nonsensical and incomprehensible additions, which include heavier fines, aim to intimidate journalists and get them to censor themselves,’ RSF said
RFE/RL, 16 February 2021: Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, has approved in the last reading a bill that envisages fines for those violating the country’s controversial law on “foreign agents.” First passed in 2012 and expanded several times since, the law gives authorities the power to brand nongovernmental organizations, human rights groups, news media, and individuals working for organizations deemed to receive foreign funding for political activity as a “foreign agent,” a label that carries pejorative Soviet-era connotations. The law subjects these organizations and individuals to bureaucratic scrutiny and spot checks and requires them to attach the “foreign agent” label to their publications. They must also report on their spending and funding. According to the bill approved by lawmakers on February 16, failure to attach the “foreign agent” label could lead to fines of up to 2,500 rubles ($34) for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles ($6,800) for entities. In addition, organizations branded as “foreign agents” and working without being registered as such could face fines of up to 5 million rubles ($68,000).
Reporters without Borders, 18 February 2021: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns new, “Kafkaesque” amendments to Russia’s so-called “foreign agents” law. These nonsensical and incomprehensible additions, which include heavier fines, aim to intimidate journalists and get them to censor themselves, RSF says. Passed on 16 February by the Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house, the amendments are so impenetrable that even the legal specialists at Agora, a Russian human rights NGO run by lawyers, are baffled. Since 1 January, journalists have been required by this law to check whether any person or organization quoted in an article is on the justice ministry’s “foreign agents” list before publishing. If they are, they must mention this in the article. And if they or their media is on the list, they must also mention this in every article. Twelve media outlets and three journalists are already on the list, but a new, longer list is due to be released soon.
The Christian Science Monitor, 16 February 2021: Being labeled a “foreign agent” by the Kremlin has historically been a terrible stigma in Russia. But ask Lev Ponomaryov, one of the first Russians to be individually branded as such under a newly amended law, how it affects him, and he simply laughs. “For me, it’s a badge of honor,” says the Soviet-era democracy activist, former parliamentarian, and staunch critic of the Kremlin. “Those who know me and my work take it humorously, or congratulate me on my new title. But for people who do not know me or are not interested in human rights, it seems that the first thing they ever hear about me is that I’m a foreign agent. I don’t like that.”