Putin signs law targeting journalists as foreign agents

Move described as scare tactic to stifle criticism of Russian government

Photo: EPA Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has signed on 2 December the bill that allows the Kremlin to label journalists and bloggers, but also ordinary individuals, as “foreign agents“, if they receive financial or other material support from foreign media organisations.

Under the vaguely worded law, Russians and foreigners who work with media or distribute their content and receive money from abroad would be declared foreign agents, potentially exposing journalists, their sources, or even those who share material on social networks to foreign agent status.

The Kremlin passed the original foreign agent law in 2012, following the largest anti-government protests since Putin came to power. Moscow claims the law is a response to a decision by the US government to require Russia’s state-funded channel RT, to register its US operating unit under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 

But the expansion of the definition of foreign agent to include private individuals now raises fresh concerns about the ability of independent journalists and bloggers to operate in the country. Several rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, had hence called for the initiative to be dropped as it was being approved by lawmakers.

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