September 25 – The Federation Council is preparing a bill that will allow the Russian authorities to declare individuals “foreign agents” if they collect information that is harmful to Russia and make it available to “foreign structures,” the latest expansion of this term and one that could be subject to serious abuse (ehorussia.com/new/node/21746).
Those involved in the drafting say that anyone who provides such information, even if it is public and unclassified to foreigners, would have to register with the justice ministry, report his or her income, and declare themselves a foreign agent whenever they appeared in public or published there (pnp.ru/news/v-sovete-federacii-podgotovyat-zakonoproekt-o-vozmozhnosti-priznaniya-inoagentami-fizlic.html).
In 2012, Vladimir Putin signed the first law on foreign agents. It said any NGO or public movement could be included in a list of foreign agents if it received financial support from abroad and was involved in political activity. In December 2019, Putin signed another law allowing the extension of this designation to individuals (svoboda.org/a/30303932.html).
What the latest move will do if as seems likely it is passed and signed into law will be to eliminate the requirement that Russians receive financial backing from a foreign source. Simply providing information to foreigners will be enough for someone to land on the “foreign agents” list.
That will allow the authorities to declare almost anyone who collects information as a journalist or researcher and whose information turns up abroad to be declared a foreign agent even if the individual involved did not in fact hand over the information or receive any payment if he or she did.
The possibilities for abuse are endless, and they almost certainly will be exploited by the Putin government.
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