Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has signed into law an amendment that could require bloggers and independent journalists to register as foreign agents, a move that rights activists say poses a threat to independent journalism.
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The legislation is the latest addition to a flurry of bills passed in recent years in Russia aimed to tighten government control over media and the internet.
The amendment, which was endorsed by the upper house of Russian parliament last week, expands the status of foreign agents to private individuals such as bloggers and freelance journalists.
Individuals who collaborate with an entity designated as a foreign agent will now have to put the foreign agent label on what they publish in print and online and register a legal entity with the Russian Ministry of Justice or face fines up to 500,000 rubles (£6,000) or imprisonment of up to two years.
The new law would in theory cover anyone who “distributes information” and receives any funding from abroad, which could affect independent journalists and bloggers receiving grants and scholarships.
Kremlin-aligned lawmakers who pushed for the amendment insisted that it would not pose a direct danger to freedom of expression but would affect only “selected individuals” who work for NGOs that have been designed as foreign agents.
Rights activists see the law as the Kremlin’s latest step towards tightening the screws on freedom of expression online as well as in traditional media.
The international rights group Human Rights Watch condemned the new amendment as “a further step to restrict free and independent media in the country.”
Tanya Lokshina, associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, told the Telegraph that the amendment could affect a wide number of people.
“Political bloggers, freelancers working for foreign media and people working for independent groups disliked by the government are particularly at risk,” Ms Lokshina said.
“But the law is so broad that anyone active on social media can be targeted.”