NGOs criticize Russian plan to extend “foreign agents” law to journalists
Update: The amendment to the “foreign agents” legislation was signed into law by Vladimir Putin on 2 December and took immediate effect. Its vague wording potentially applies to any journalists and bloggers receiving payments from abroad, who will have to put a “foreign agent” label on anything they publish, including on social networks, and create a legal entity to submit a monthly declaration to the tax authorities, requiring the costly services of an accountant.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and nine other international human rights organizations are calling on Russia to abandon a bill extending its “foreign agents” law to journalists and bloggers, and instead to comply with its obligations to respect freedom of expression.
By forcing journalists and bloggers receiving “funds from abroad” to register as “foreign agents” with the justice ministry, the proposed amendment would further restrict the Russian public’s access to freely reported news and information. The law already applies to NGOs and media outlets.
Under the amendment, currently being considered by the Russian parliament, any journalist or blogger would have to register if they receive money from abroad, whether in the form of a salary, grant or payment for a single piece of reporting, and anything they publish in Russia would have to carry the humiliating “foreign agent” label.
Those living abroad would have to create a legal entity in Russia to order to get anything published there, and what they publish would also have to be labelled as the work of a “foreign agent.”
Approved on first reading in January, the amendment could be adopted by the end of the year. Under a parallel amendment, journalists failing to comply would face fines of between 10,000 and 5 million roubles (140 and 70,700 euros).
Russian’s adoption of a law in November 2017 under which any media outlet receiving foreign funding or registered in another country could be declared a “foreign agent” was criticized by RSF at the time. It extended the draconian provisions of the “foreign agents” law that has already applied to NGOs since 2012.
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
Civil Rights Defenders
Committee to Protect Journalists
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Media Support
International Partnership for Human Rights
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)