A pair of bills that limit speech online were signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, promising harsh penalties for those who criticise the nation and its officials or post fake news.
Those who repeatedly post disrespectful content about authorities—including Putin—could spend up to 15 days in jail. And individuals who share fake news could be fined up to £4,500, while news outlets could be fined over £17,000. One of the bills also forces internet service providers to block misinformation online in the event that it hasn’t already been taken down.
“The Prosecutor’s office may now block such fake news sources prior to the judicial decision,” Maria Snegovaya, an adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, told the Washington Post. “It gives the Prosecutor’s office an extremely high authority and almost completely eliminates the Russian (albeit completely non-free) courts from the game.” She continued:
In other words, it significantly expands the repressive power of Russia’s repressive apparatus. This may be compared to the Stalin’s Troika, a commission of three for express judgement in the Soviet Union during the time of Joseph Stalin who issued sentences to people after simplified, speedy investigations and without a public and fair trial.
The fake news bill prohibits individuals from sharing content that “threatens someone’s life and (or) their health or property, or threatens mass public disorder or danger, or threatens to interfere or disrupt vital infrastructure, transport or social services, credit organisations, or energy, industrial, or communications facilities,” according to CNN.
Similar bills have been passed in both Malaysia and Egypt, giving those governments the power to punish individuals who share what they characterise as fake news. And like Russia’s pair of bills, their language is almost intentionally vague, presenting themselves as tools against misinformation while giving the state greater legal authority to censor dissenters.
“These are crazy bills,” opposition politician Ilya Yashin told Reuters in January. “How can they prohibit people from criticising the authorities?”
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