Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law that outlaws “fake news” and information that “disrespects” the country and its government, NPR reports.
Under the new law, prosecutors will be able to refer individuals and online media that “disrespects” Putin’s government to the Russian officials who can block websites accessible inside the country.
Media companies that repeatedly spread “unreliable” information could face fines up to $23,000 and repeat offenders could be jailed, The Washington Post reports.
“Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses,” The Moscow Times reported. “As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity. More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled 'direct censorship.' "
Russian government denies it is censoring news:
"No doubt, one can hardly agree with the opinion that this is some sort of censorship," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian media. "This sphere - the sphere of fake news - insults and so on, is under strict regulation in many countries of the world, even in European states. This undoubtedly has to be done in our country."
But Russia has long been censoring what its residents can see online.
"Tougher Internet laws introduced over the past five years require search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and social networks to store users' personal data on servers within the country,’ The Moscow Times reported.
Critics compare Putin to Stalin:
Maria Snegovaya, an adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, told The Washington Post that the move is reminiscent of the Soviet era.
“The Prosecutor’s office may now block such fake news sources prior to the judicial decision. 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 told the outlet.
“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 judgment 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,” she added.