Politicians in Russia have passed legislation that imposes restrictions on online media and penalties on those who insult the state.
The bill, introduced on Thursday by the Kremlin-controlled lower house, the State Duma, prescribed fines for publishing materials showing disrespect to the state, its symbols and government organs. Repeat offenders could face a 15-day jail sentence.
Parliament approved the bill in the third reading and endorsed a separate bill that would block anyone publishing “fake news” online that was perceived to threaten public health and security.
Critics see the bill, which President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign into law once approved by the upper-house Federation Council, as part of Kremlin efforts to stifle criticism and tighten control.
Communist lawmaker Alexei Kurinnyi warned that the authorities could use the “fake news” bill to punish critics.
“Dear colleagues, let’s ask ourselves, why do people believe the so-called fake news? Apparently, it’s because they don’t trust the government, the official sources, because the government – especially lately – has been telling lies,” said Kurinnyi.
“It lies unapologetically, providing unauthentic information, but it never faces any consequences.”
Valery Gartung of the Just Russia faction also criticised the legislation, saying its vagueness would open the way for selective interpretation.
“Our faction shares this concern,” said Gartung. “The issue raised with this law is indeed very important, and we do have to find a way to combat the fakes, but we cannot support this law under its current draft because it wouldn’t achieve the specified goals.
“We are worried about its law-enforcement practice, which we have a reason to believe would be selective, and we can’t allow that to happen.”
The ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky spoke about the need to “fight lies that lead to revolutions and wars,” but added that his faction wouldn’t support what he described as insufficiently prepared legislation.
Members of the main pro-Kremlin faction, United Russia, who drafted the new legislation, argued that it was needed to protect the state.