Russian law on natural persons-foreign agents and freedom of speech
Experts on the essence and meaning of the new legislative initiative
Amendments to the law on foreign media agents, which can now include private individuals, caused a noticeable resonance both in Russia itself and abroad. The document was signed yesterday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite numerous requests from the public not to do so..
We will remind that last week both chambers of the Russian parliament approved a law providing for the recognition by foreign agents of individuals who cooperate with media-foreign agents and receive funding from abroad. The list of natural persons-foreign agents will be compiled by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
In December 2017, the Russian Ministry of Justice added Voice of America and Radio Liberty to the list of foreign agents. The list also includes the TV channel “Nastoye Vremya”, the Tatar-Bashkir service of Radio Liberty, Siberia. Realities, Idel. Realities, Faktograf, Caucasus. Realities and Crimea. Realities.
Shortly before the law was signed by Putin, the United States expressed concern that the amendments could be used by the Russian authorities to suppress freedom of speech..
“We are alarmed by the hasty adoption by the Russian parliament of yet another ‘foreign agents’ law that could be used to suppress independent votes. We call on Russia to respect its commitments to protect freedom of speech, ”State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus tweeted..
Ortagus also recalled that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov once again announced compliance with such commitments at the OSCE conference.
The Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation called this statement interference in the internal affairs of Russia.
Andrei Kolesnikov, head of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, believes that the high speed of passage of a legislative initiative through parliament always shows that it has been agreed at the very top and approved by the Kremlin. For example, the law on “life-long rectorship” for the heads of Moscow State University and St. Petersburg State University, and a number of others, for whom a “green street” was opened, was passed at the same speed, the political scientist recalled. In his opinion, this speaks of their extreme importance for the authorities..
In addition, Andrei Kolesnikov thinks that the law on natural persons-foreign agents can become both offensive and defensive weapons. “Its main feature will be its selectivity,” he says in an interview with the Voice of America. – Because it is very difficult to administer them. There are a lot of legal flaws in the law. It is not clear why an individual should establish a legal entity, why is this necessary and how will it happen, in what form? In general, there are a lot of procedural mysteries “.
At the same time, as it seems to the expert of the Carnegie Moscow Center, the main political meaning of the law is that in accordance with it one can arbitrarily (or for some special reason) choose a victim and stigmatize her with the status of “foreign agent”. “Most likely, the law will be applied pointwise – after some excesses, scandals,” he suggested.
As for the prospects for the application of the law in relation to foreign media recognized by foreign agents, then everything will depend on the general degree of conflict between Moscow and the rest of the world, Andrei Kolesnikov believes. So far, in his opinion, the Kremlin is not ready to “exchange” RT and “Sputnik” for media-foreign agents.
“After all, blocking Radio Liberty or Voice of America is an additional conflict with the United States and European countries,” he says. – They will go for it if it is necessary to respond “symmetrically”, for example, to new tough sanctions from the West. The Russian authorities always respond exactly in such a way as to “punish” the US and the EU “.
Such a situation is possible, the political scientist admitted. At the same time, the interests of Russian citizens will suffer, first of all, who will be deprived of the legal right to free access to information from alternative sources, summed up Andrey Kolesnikov.
According to a survey by the Levada Center, over the past two years, the share of Russians who consider freedom of speech one of the most important has grown by almost a quarter – from 34 to 58 percent..
In turn, Nadezhda Azhgikhina, Vice-President of the European Federation of Journalists, in a comment to the Russian service of the Voice of America, noted that the adoption of amendments to the law on foreign media agents was another evidence of the lack of dialogue between the authorities and civil society..
“The Human Rights Council under the President, art and culture workers in their public appeals to the country’s leadership warned about the danger of the new legislative initiative for society and its development,” she stressed. – They were not heard “.
There is no doubt that the amendments will become another means of censorship and reprisals against critical voices, the vice-president of the European Federation of Journalists stated with regret..