Kiev, January 16, 2018--Russia's State Duma should drop a bill that would require some bloggers and journalists to register as foreign agents, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The Duma on January 12 voted overwhelmingly to approve the bill, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
If passed, the bill would allow the Justice Ministry to designate some journalists or media outlets as foreign agents, The Associated Press reported. The journalists, as well as anyone sharing their work on social media, would be required to label content as being from a foreign agent, according to remarks that Pyotr Tolstoy, a deputy Duma speaker and the bill's co-author, made at the parliament's plenary session.
Before being passed into law, the proposed bill must be considered twice more by the Duma before going to Russia's upper house, the Federation Council, according to reports.
"Labeling individuals who simply disseminate independent or critical information as foreign agents is reprehensible," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. "We call on the Russian authorities to drop the proposed foreign agent law and stop this systematic obstruction of the free flow of information."
Russian lawmaker Leonid Levin told the lower house that the "foreign agent" label would be applied only to individuals who "perform the function of a media outlet" and receive funding directly or indirectly from "state sources in countries where there are restrictions on the work of Russian media," according to RFE/RL and the AP.
The bill comes after President Vladimir Putin expanded a law to allow media outlets that receive all or partial funding from sources outside Russia to be designated as "foreign agents." The action came after the Kremlin-funded television station RT, formerly Russia Today, said in November that it had complied with a U.S. Justice Department order to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The Justice Ministry has already used the newly expanded laws to designate nine U.S. funded news outlets, including the U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), as foreign agents, according to reports.