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27 November 2017

Russian Federation: “Foreign Agent Media” bill signed

On 25 November 2017, the President of the Russian Federation signed into law the “Foreign Agent Media” bill. The law targets media organisations receiving foreign funding by imposing additional requirements and introducing sanctions for media who would fail to meet them. This bill represents a new layer of repressive legislation, adding to the previously passed “Foreign Agent Law” and “Law on Undesirable Organisations".

The Federal Law “On Introduction of changes to the Articles 10.4 and 15.3 of Federal Law ‘On information, information technologies and on protection of information’ and to the Article 6 of the Law of Russian Federation ‘On media’” (known as Foreign Agent Media Law) was approved by the Council of the Federation (High Chamber of the Russian Parliament) on 22 November 2017 and signed by the President on 25 November 2017. It came into effect immediately.

The bill was signed in retaliation to the registration of pro-governmental TV channel Russia Today as a “foreign agent” in the United States under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). This act was adopted in 1938 and applies to organisations involved in political activity and the promotion of the interests of foreign states. Two media organisations operating in Russia, Voice of America and Radio Liberty, have already received notifications that they may be registered as “foreign agents” under the new legislation.

The Law stipulates that any “legal entity registered in a foreign state or foreign structure without legal entity, distributing (…) printed, audio, audiovisual and other materials (…) can be recognised as foreign media performing the functions of foreign agent (…) if it receives financial and (or) other resources from foreign states, their institutions, international and foreign organisations, foreign citizens and persons without citizenship (..) or Russian citizens who receive financial and (or) other resources from above-mentioned sources”. If media organisations are recognised as “foreign agents”, they would face the same consequences as non-commercial organisations under the Foreign Agent Law requiring them to register as “foreign agents” and to mark all of their publications as being produced by a “foreign agent”. The legislation allows authorities to suspend the activities of an organisation that “performs functions of a foreign agent” but failed to register as one. The Administrative and Criminal Codes were amended in order to introduce sanctions for organisations and their leaders who fail to comply with the new legislation.

The “Foreign Agent Media Law” also allows the extra-judicial blocking of any website or personal page containing  “appeals to mass riots, extremist activity or participation in mass (public) events organised in violation of legal procedure or publications of foreign or international non-governmental organisations whose activity is recognised as undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation”. The “Law on Undesirable Organisations” was adopted in 2015 and bans any foreign organisation that allegedly undermines Russia’s security, defence, or constitutional order. The law also provides for administrative and criminal sanctions against Russian organisations and nationals that engage in “continued involvement” with groups that are classified as “undesirable”.

Front Line Defenders condemns the “Foreign Agent Media” bill as it believes the legislation is in clear breach of freedom of speech and freedom of information and may be used as a repressive tool to silence dissenting voices.