Lawmakers in Moscow have voted through tough new measures and steep fines against organizations that they say exist to do the work of foreign states in Russia, as well as those who amplify and share their messages in the media.
On Tuesday, the country’s parliament adopted in the second and third readings a new law upping administrative fines for violations of the laws governing organizations designated as ‘foreign agents’.
At present, groups registered with that status by Russia’s Ministry of Justice must declare it prominently alongside any information they publish, informing readers that they receive at least a portion of their funds from overseas.
The new amendments will mean that organizations or media outlets that republish their work without the ‘foreign agent’ label will face fines of up to 50,000 rubles (around $680). Individuals that fall foul of the rules can be docked as much as 2,500 rubles (nearly $35) for each offense.
For the groups themselves, failing to disclose their status can now carry the hefty price tag of 500,000 rubles ($6,800) per violation. Last week, US state-run broadcaster RFE/RL, listed as a foreign agent by the Ministry of Justice, was fined close to $150,000 over a series of breaches by its network of websites.
According to Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator, there have been 166 documented cases of the broadcaster not complying with the requirement to declare their status. Thus far, courts have considered 40 of them and have ruled against RFE/RL in every single case.
After the US-based organization was given foreign agent status, RFE/RL created a Russian legal entity, which was later also recognized as a foreign agent under new legislation.
RFE/RL was listed as a foreign agent in 2017, only one month after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the provisions into law. The move came shortly after Washington designated Russian networks RT and Sputnik as foreign agents under equivalent legislation.
The chairman of Russia’s Parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said on Tuesday that the country had only reacted in kind to the passage of equivalent laws in America. “The US passed legislation of foreign agents in 1937,” he said, “and they are guided by this today as well. They introduced it to contain the Soviet Union and the ideas of communism, and they have continued it in order to protect their sovereignty.”
“Let’s do everything to prevent other states from interfering in our country and in our internal affairs,” Volodin added.
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