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March 18, 2019

Vladimir Putin Enacts All-Encompassing Online Censorship Law

In Russia, where the government already has broad powers to regulate and censor online content, President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a new law that massively expands his own administration’s authority to outlaw online content that the government doesn’t like. The new bill is aimed, according to The Moscow Times, mainly at “fake news” and “insults” to government officials, but widely encompasses any online material that spreads “disrespect” of Russian society. The bill, authored by legislators in Putin’s own “United Russia” party, was passed last week by Russia’s duma, or parliament, and sent on Wednesday to Putin for his signature. How such “disrespect” is defined and what constitutes “fake news” will be solely at the discretion of Putin’s government, under the law, according to the Washington Post.  “The prosecutor general now has essentially unconstrained authority to determine that any speech is unacceptable under the new law,” Russia expert Matthew Rojansky told the Post. While persecution of Putin’s critics and penalties for online speech are nothing new in Russia, Rojanksy said, the new law makes it much easier and more straightforward for the government to silence dissenting voices online. “If the state considers any online speech extremist, it can block it, and it can severely punish the speaker,” the Russia expert said. “One consequence may be to make it nearly impossible for individuals or groups to call for public protest activity against any action taken by the state.” When it comes to online porn, Russia has blocked major porn sites including PornHub and YouPorn since 2016. While simply viewing porn is not illegal in Russia, production, distribution or “public demonstration” of pornographic content is punishable by two to six years in prison. Under the law signed by Putin on Monday, any online content that shows “clear disrespect for society, the state, the official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation and bodies exercising state power” is now punishable by fines and up to 15 days behind bars, according to Bloomberg News. Publishing “fake news” carries a fine equivalent to $23,000 under the new law. Photo by the Kremlin / Wikimedia Commons 

 
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