Bill seeks to label critical journalists extremists

New York, June 30, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a bill before the Russian Parliament that broadens the definition of extremism to include media criticism of public officials. The draft legislation allows for imprisonment of up to three years for journalists, and the suspension or closure of their publication, if convicted of extremism, according to Russian press reports and CPJ sources.

The lower house of Parliament approved the amendments to the Law on Fighting Extremist Activity in a first reading on Wednesday despite objections from opposition parties, human rights activists, and independent media. If the bill is passed in two subsequent readings, it would go to the upper house, which, critics say, could rubber-stamp it without debate. The second reading is expected next week, CPJ sources said.

Amendments to Article 1 of the law broaden the definition of extremist activity to include “public slander directed toward figures fulfilling the state duties of the Russian Federation,” as well as “interfering with the legal duties of organs of state authorities,” The Associated Press reported. Such vague language allows public officials to interpret the law as they please and effectively target their critics, CPJ sources said.

“These amendments would effectively label bold journalists ’extremists,’ and further chill what little critical coverage exists in Russia today,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on lawmakers to overturn the bill on a second reading.”