New York, April 4, 2019 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the Russian parliament to drop legislative amendments that would ban the distribution of foreign print media in the country without government permission.
On April 2, deputies in the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, considered amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses that would levy fines on individuals and companies for distributing print media from foreign outlets without permission from Russia's state media regulator, Roskomnadzor, according to an official statement from the Duma and media reports.
For the amendments to become law, they must pass two more readings in the Duma and be approved by the parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, and then signed by President Vladimir Putin, according to Galina Arapova, a media lawyer and director of the Mass Media Defense Center, a Russia-based independent organization that offers legal defense to journalists, who reviewed the text of the amendments and spoke with CPJ.
"The amendments introduced in Russia's State Duma on April 2 show how authorities in Moscow are continuously scanning the landscape for new ways to tighten state control over news and information," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said. "We call on the Duma to drop these amendments and on Russian authorities to stop turning Roskomnadzor into a giant government censorship agency."
Arapova told CPJ that the legislation would affect print media sold within the country as well as printed materials brought into Russia by individuals. Foreign print media is largely unregulated, and subject to specific contracts between media outlets and local distributors, Arapova said; this legislation would bring all of those agreements under Roskomnadzor's authority.
Under the proposed amendments, Roskomnadzor would have the authority to seize all print media distributed without permission and penalize companies, such as newsstands, with up to 30,000 rubles ($460) for the unauthorized distribution of media, according to the Duma statement.
Individuals who disseminate unauthorized foreign print media would face fines of up to 1,500 rubles ($23), while fines for public officials could reach up to 3,000 ($46), according to the Duma.
"The newspapers and magazines people bring for friends or family could potentially be seized in a practice similar to the confiscation of 'extremist materials' now," Arapova said. She also said that the new amendments have not clarified how the permissions would be issued.
CPJ called the State Duma's public phone number on April 3 to request comment and did not receive a response.
On April 2, Roskomnadzor ordered the editorial offices of several news websites based in the city of Yaroslavl to remove reports on graffiti insulting Putin on the grounds that they were "disrespectful," the first use of a recently passed law banning disrespect towards the government or public officials, BBC Russian reported.