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US Department of State claims Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ law threatens free media in Russia

November 29, 2017, 5:00 UTC+3 WASHINGTON

The document provides the Russian government with an opportunity to declare a media outlet a foreign agent in case it receives funding from abroad

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© AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez

WASHINGTON, November 29. /TASS/. The new Russian legislation that allows to label media outlets as "foreign agents" "presents yet another threat to free media in Russia" and should not be applied, the US Department of State said on Tuesday.

A senior Russian official earlier said the move came as a response to restrictions by US and other countries on the RT TV channel and Sputnik news agency. According to Russian Federation Council (upper house of parliament) Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, reporters from countries that respect freedom of the press and let Russian news outlets work freely, have no reasons to be concerned

"New Russian legislation that allows the Ministry of Justice to label media outlets as "foreign agents" and to monitor or block certain internet activity presents yet another threat to free media in Russia," reads a statement by Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert. "Freedom of expression-including speech and media which a government may find inconvenient-is a universal human rights obligation Russia has pledged to uphold."

"The United States urges the Russian government not to use this legislation to further restrict the operation of media outlets or freedom of expression," the statement says.

According to Nauert, the United States "has previously highlighted the threat posed by Russia’s Foreign Agents Law." According to the spokesperson, the legislation "has been used to justify a constant stream of raids, harassment, and legal proceedings that effectively obstruct non-governmental organizations from doing their work."

"Expanding the Foreign Agents Law to include media outlets opens the door to onerous requirements that could further stifle freedom of speech and editorial independence in Russia," she said.

She described as "disingenuous and inappropriate" the Russian Government’s explanations that the legislation was adopted as a response to the transparency requirements in the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA).

"FARA does not police the content of information disseminated, does not limit the publication of information or advocacy materials, and does not restrict an organization’s ability to operate," Nauert said.

On November 22, Russia’s Federation Council approved a bill concerning foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents. President Vladimir Putin signed the bill into law on November 25.

The document provides the Russian government with an opportunity to declare a media outlet a foreign agent in case it receives funding from abroad. After obtaining the foreign agent status, media outlets will be subject to restrictions imposed on non-profit organizations acting as foreign agents. They would also be held accountable for the violations of the law.

The law was adopted in response to the demand made by the United States US Department of Justice that the US branch of Russia’s RT TV channel register as a foreign agent.

Matviyenko told reporters on November 28 that reporters from countries where Russian media outlets are not harassed, have no reasons to be concerned over the new legislation.

"It was adopted only after the United States and several other countries started to impose restrictions on the RT TV channel and Sputnik news agency. Therefore, the law only stipulates retaliatory measures in response to restrictions against Russian media outlets," Matviyenko said.

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