MOSCOW, November 15. /TASS/. Russia’s State Duma (lower house of parliament) voted at its meeting on Wednesday for passing the amendments that would allow to designate media outlets as foreign agents, if they are funded from abroad. After acquiring this status, these media outlets will be subject to the restrictions and responsibilities, which are currently envisaged for non-governmental organizations designated as foreign agents. They will also be facing a similar responsibility for such NGOs for breach of legislation.
A total of 409 lawmakers out of 450 voted for the amendments, no one voted against them or abstained. The amendment was introduced in the second reading of the bill, which initially dealt with a related issue, specifically, the possibility of the pre-judicial blocking of websites of the organizations outlawed in Russia. This move became a response to the demand by the US Department of Justice that the US branch of Russia’s RT television channel, RT America, should register as a foreign agent by November 13.
Amendments have been introduced into the law on information, information technologies and information security, which provides Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor with the possibility to immediately block websites at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office. In particular, the amendments say that a website may be blocked in case it contains information "published or disseminated by a foreign or international non-governmental organization declared undesirable in Russia."
As of now, as many as 11 foreign and international non-profit organizations have been declared undesirable in Russia. However, none of their websites has been blocked so far.
"Meanwhile, such websites are used to disseminate information aimed at discrediting Russia’s domestic and foreign policy, shaping a negative public opinion and destabilizing the situation in the country," the amendments’ authors say. They believe that the situation stems from "the difficulties hindering the current procedure for blocking websites used by foreign and international non-governmental organizations declared undesirable on Russia’s territory."
During the second reading of the bill, another significant amendment was introduced, which says that owners of news aggregators may not held responsible for disseminating information "in case the information is a verbatim reproduction of news published on official websites of state agencies."
Before blocking a website, law enforcement agencies study its contents and prepare a document "containing information about the website and the news that it disseminates, as well as providing evidence of unlimited public access to undesirable organizations’ websites." These documents are forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s Office, which requests a court to declare this information prohibited for dissemination in Russia. After a positive court decision is made, Roskomnadzor orders Russian internet provider companies to limit user access to certain websites.
At the same time, since websites owners have an opportunity to file an appeal against the court’s ruling within three months from its issuance, the blocking procedure may take up to one year.