By Paul Goble
In eight days, two new laws will go into effect that introduce serious civil fines and even imprisonment for individuals and groups who don’t obey judicial orders to stop distributing information the government finds offensive, thus reversing the “softening” of the anti-extremist laws for which Vladimir Putin has been given so much credit.
The texts of the laws which go into effect on October 13 now have been published in the government’s Rossiiskaya gazeta (rg.ru/2018/10/04/fz348-dok.html), but they haven’t received as much attention as Putin’s announcement. Viktor Kuznetsov’s commentary on Versiya is an exception (versia.ru/v-rossii-uzhestochat-nakazanie-za-otkaz-prekratit-rasprostranenie-informacii).
The Versiya writer makes it clear that both individuals and media outlets who run afoul of their provisions face enormous fines, potential detention, compulsory work for the good of the community, and even up to one year in prison if they continue to distribute materials Russian courts object to.
Among the kinds of posts that would potentially run afoul of these new measures are those that courts say distribute “illegal” or “unreliable” information, a potentially expansive category that could be used to go after all those who now run afoul of the anti-extremism laws Putin has “softened” and more besides.
What is particularly concerning, Kuznetsov says, is that the new laws apply “not only to citizens but also to the media, one of the chief distributors of information on the Internet.” Those courts hold to be in violation of their orders will find it difficult to defend themselves. And that will have a chilling effect on them as well as on individuals going on line.
That is because the new laws specify that anyone or any institution that doesn’t stop distributing information courts object to “within the course of a single day” face the threat of being blocked and entered into a government list as someone distributing “prohibited information.”