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Human Rights Council asks Putin to turn down laws on fake news

March 14, 17:43 UTC+3

The human rights advocates view the norms as excessive as they "create the basis for the arbitrary persecution of citizens and organizations"

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© Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS

MOSCOW, March 14. /TASS/. The Russian Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights has sent an expert conclusion to President Vladimir Putin on the laws on blocking fake news and liability for the insults of state symbols, recommending to reject them, Council Head Mikhail Fedotov said on Thursday.

"We have already sent to the president our expert conclusion [with the recommendation] to turn down and send for finalization [the laws on fake news and the insults of state symbols]," he told journalists.

The Council has sent to the president the same conclusion, which it had earlier dispatched to the upper house of Russia’s parliament, Fedotov said.

This document posted on the Council’s website notes that human rights advocates view the norms of liability for the dissemination of untrue information as excessive because they "create the basis for the arbitrary persecution of citizens and organizations."

In the opinion of members of the Human Rights Council, the law on disrespect for state symbols and the institutions of power in the Russian Federation is "obviously the disproportional limitation of the freedom of speech and opinions."

The Federation Council (the upper house of Russia’s parliament) approved at its Wednesday plenary session a bill on blocking untrue and distorting facts (fake news), as well as the law on blocking materials in the Internet that insult society, the state symbols and institutions of power in Russia.

Fight against fake news

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on "untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities."

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators "a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource."

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will "hold a check into the authenticity of this notice" and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, "The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information," stipulates liability for disseminating "deliberately untrue publicly significant information" in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

In addition, the law introduces some new elements of offence, one of which stipulates sanctions for creating obstacles to the functioning of life support facilities, transport or social infrastructure, communications, energy and industrial facilities and credit institutions by way of disseminating fake news. In such instances, fines will range from 100,000 rubles to 300,000 rubles ($4,570) for citizens, from 300,000 rubles to 600,000 rubles ($9,150) for officials and from 500,000 rubles to 1 million rubles ($15,240) for corporate entities.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

Liability for insults of Russian state symbols

The document defines the procedure of restricting access "to the information that expresses in an indecent form, which insults human dignity and public morality, obvious disrespect for society, the state, official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation or the bodies exercising state power in the Russian Federation."

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences that stipulates penalties of up to 300,000 rubles and the possibility of an administrative arrest for the insult of state symbols and institutions. For this purpose, amendments are made to article 20.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences ("Petty Hooliganism").

Specifically, the penalty may range from 30,000 rubles to 100,000 rubles for the dissemination of insulting materials. Upon the repeat offence, the penalties will rise to 100,000-200,000 rubles and if they are committed by more than two times, the fine will amount to 200,000-300,000 rubles. In the latter two cases, an administrative arrest for up to 15 days is envisaged as alternative punishment.

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