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New law restricts rights of Russian bloggers

April 22, 2014, 18:06 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Artyom Starikov

MOSCOW, April 22. /ITAR-TASS/. Russia’s popular bloggers will now have to brace for considerable restrictions of their rights. The State Duma has just adopted a law introducing new rules they will have to abide by. The document incorporates a package of bills for effective struggle against terrorism and extremism. Earlier, the bill drew a mixed response from society, including sharp criticism from human rights activists.

The law introduces a new term: “Internet user called blogger.” Bloggers will be obliged to declare their family name and initials and e-mail address. Those authors whose personal website or page in social networks has 3,000 visitors or more a day must have themselves registered on a special list and abide by restrictions applicable to the mass media. In other words, registration requires the blogger should check the authenticity of published information and also mention age restrictions for users. Also, bloggers will have to follow mass media laws concerning electioneering, resistance to extremism and the publication of information about people’s private lives. An abuse of these requirements will be punishable with a fine of 10,000 to 30,000 roubles (roughly 300 dollars to 1,000 dollars) for individuals and 300,000 roubles (10,000 roubles) for legal entities. A second violation will be punishable with the website’s suspension for one month.

Many observers have arrived at the conclusion that the document in fact treats bloggers as mass media from the standpoint of obligations, but grants them no corresponding rights. The heads of State Duma committees deny this, though. “The media argue that under this law bloggers have been declared as a variety of mass media. This is not so,” says the chairman of the State Duma’s information policies committee, Aleksei Mitrofanov. “Under that law special legal regulation for bloggers is to be introduced,” he said. “It is the other way round, bloggers who have been registered as an online publication are not subject to the operation of that law.”

Nevertheless, back during the discussion phase the bill came under strong criticism from society. In particular, a majority of members of the presidential council for civil society and human rights came out against its adoption in the present shape. HRC Chairman Mikhail Fedotov said the bill contradicted the existing law on the mass media.

Presidential human rights ombudsman Ella Pamfilova said that the introduction of extra restrictions would merely induce attempts to sidestep them and “hinder the emergence of law abidance in young people’s minds.” She warns that the bill has very big chances of being taken before a Constitutional Court.

The bill is half-baked and leaves many legal loopholes unplugged. For instance, it is unclear what is to be done to foreign bloggers, says HRC member Ilya Shablinsky. “The real purpose of the bill is to prevent any criticism of the authorities,” he speculates.

Any protective barriers are not only counter-productive, but just useless in the global network, which is a trans-border resource providing anonymity, the daily Novyie Izvestia quotes HRC member Aleksandr Verkhovsky as saying.

“The problem is there is a certain reflex at work here. Everything that looks dangerous should be banned. However, if the state begins to black out information, it will be doomed to fail. I twill merely and to annoy one and all.”

Assistant lecturer at the international law chair of the department of law at the Russian Presidential Academy of the Economy and Civil Service, internet technologies specialist Madina Kasenova in an interview to Itar-Tass has described the law on bloggers as “legally redundant”. She said it would be very wrong to apply the same standards to all Internet users and Internet resources. “If one legal norm is applied to this diversity, then the law will either not work at all, or work only when somebody will benefit from it,” the analyst said.

In her opinion the flaws in the existing legislation are largely a result of lawmakers’ haste. “What we observe is not a very good tendency – there is no correlation between different laws,” she said.


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