President Vladimir Putin has tightened his grip on the Russian Internet Monday, signing two censorship bills into law. One bans “fake news” while the other makes it illegal to insult public officials.
Russia has never really been a liberal democracy. It lacks an independent judiciary, and the government has found a variety of techniques to harass and intimidate independent media in the country.
But the new legislation gives the Russian government more direct tools to censor online speech. Analyst Maria Snegovaya told that the legislation “significantly expands the repressive power of Russia’s repressive apparatus.”
Under one bill, individuals can face fines and jail time if they publish material online that shows a “clear disrespect for society, the state, the official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and bodies exercising state power.”
Insults against Putin himself can be punished under the law, reports. Punishments can be as high as 300,000 rubles ($4,700) and 15 days in jail.
A second bill subjects sites publishing “unreliable socially significant information” to fines as high as 1.5 million rubles ($23,000).
“Russia has not historically had major constraints on Internet freedom,” analyst Matthew Rojansky told the Post. “The Internet has thus been one realm in which full diversity of opinion and free expression, even on the most sensitive political topics, were generally permitted.”
Now, however, the Russian government has “essentially unconstrained authority to determine that any speech is unacceptable. One consequence may be to make it nearly impossible for individuals or groups to call for public protest activity against any action taken by the state.”
The Russian government has steadily tightened its grip over the Russian Internet, notes. “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.”