27 November 2020
By Boris Vishnevsky, deputy to the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize
The hand of alternatively gifted deputies and senators does not tire. One after another, they have been giving birth in a mad dash to more and more new initiatives intended to defend our national security from the West’s pernicious influence. This time, there is a proposal to declare any “ties to foreigners,” as they used to put it, essentially as “hostile activity.”
Vasily Piskarev (chair of the Duma Security Committee), Andrei Isaev, Dmitry Saveliev, and other State Duma deputies, together with Senators Andrei Klimov and Oleg Melnichenko, have submitted a bill to the State Duma “On introducing changes to the Russian Federation Code on Administrative Infractions with regard to specifying responsibility for a breach of order by persons performing the functions of a foreign agent.”
The essence of this latest legislative obscurantism is quite simple: make it mandatory that anyone who disseminates (including on the Internet) any information about organizations that have been deemed “foreign agents,” as well as their materials, indicate that they are said “agents.”
A violation brings with it a fine “with or without confiscation of the subject of administrative infraction.”
For citizens, 2,000-2,500 roubles; for officials, 4,000-5,000 roubles; for legal persons, 40,000-50,000 roubles.
The same punishment applies to disseminating information or materials of unregistered NGOs deemed to be “foreign agents” that do not indicate their “foreign agent” status.
The law about how unregistered NGOs can be deemed “foreign agents,” which was submitted by approximately this same creative collective of fighters for our national security (and about which this author wrote recently) has not even passed yet but is already being used by them as if it had been.
In addition, there is punishment for disseminating information about a physical person deemed a “foreign agent” or their materials without indicating that said person is an “agent.”
And this isn’t all. Those deemed to be “foreign agents” are required to indicate this fact not only in any dissemination of their materials but also when sending any materials to State agencies.
You didn’t? The fine: for citizens, up to 30,000 roubles; for officials, up to 300,000 roubles; for legal persons, up to 500,000 roubles.
Punishment also awaits citizens who are not just founders or leaders but also rank-and-file participants or members of any “foreign agent” NGOs (including unregistered ones).
Should they, “while pursuing their political activity” (as we know, anything at all can be declared “political activity” now), produce or disseminate any materials or send them to State agencies without indicating in the process that they are “foreign agents.”
You didn’t? A fine of up to 5,000 rubles.
In all the instances cited, as before, this is a fine “with or without confiscation of the subject of administrative infraction.”
Let us translate this pseudo-legal insanity into Russian.
Those who have not yet been deemed “foreign agents” are forbidden (including on the Internet), under threat of a fine and confiscation of their computer, tablet, notebook, and mobile telephone, to mention “foreign agents” without indicating that they are “foreign agents.” It doesn’t matter whether they are talking about an NGO or citizens deemed “foreign agents.” Similarly forbidden is mentioning terrorist organizations without indicating that they are “forbidden in the Russian Federation.”
Those who have already been deemed “foreign agents” are forbidden to mention themselves anywhere, or to address State agencies, without reporting that they are “foreign agents.” Under the same threat.
In other words, any citizen who mentions in a public space anyone—another citizen or a public organization—must first ascertain that who or what being mentioned has not yet been deemed a “foreign agent.”
Moreover, even when mentioning himself, he has to ascertain that he himself has not yet been deemed a “foreign agent.”
At the same time, it is difficult to find a complete list of “foreign agents” on the Justice Ministry’s website, but given the latest legislative initiatives, it is going to be filling up at an accelerated rate.
Soon, evidently, after every name of a person or organization cited in “public,” we are going to have to write in parentheses: “possibly a foreign agent.”
Stars on “foreign agents’” clothing to be sure they’re identified? An ineradicable brand on his forehead? A chip forcibly implanted? Anyone who hasn’t indicated that they are disseminating a “foreign agent’s” information being automatically deemed a foreign agent?
More than twenty Russian NGOs have complained to Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, Tatiana Moskalkova, and Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, about the latest legislative initiatives on “foreign agents.”
They point out that these bills are aimed at suppressing the activities of Russian NGOs, public associations, and branches of international NGOs and at “the further restriction of Russian citizens’ right to the freedom of association, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the free expression of opinion, and the free dissemination and receipt of information.”
They also write that “a legal basis is going to be created for the prohibition of any initiatives that criticize or even deviate from the policy conducted by the State.”
It’s hard not to agree.
Translated by Marian Schwartz