Wednesday, January 27, 2021

US raises alarm as Russia expands rules on ‘foreign agents’

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The United States voiced alarm on Thursday after Russia expanded rules against NGOs and the media considered “foreign agents,” accusing Moscow of cracking down on freedom of expression.

“Deeply concerned about Russia’s increasing repression of its civil society,” Cale Brown, deputy spokesperson for the State Department, wrote on Twitter.

“Changes to the ‘foreign agent law’ are particularly concerning as they allow authorities to selectively enforce burdensome registration and labeling requirements, veto the activities of an organization, and imprison those found in violation,” he wrote.

“We ask Russia to respect the rights of its citizens.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expanded the labeling of non-governmental groups and media outlets as “foreign agents,” a term that dates back to the Soviet era.

Russia this month expanded legislation first passed in 2012. Among other provisions, “foreign agents” will now face up to five years in prison for failing to abide by the rules.

Russia on Tuesday summoned representatives of media organizations listed as foreign agents, warning them to tag posts with a tag and submit detailed documentation or face fines.

Media outlets listed as foreign agents in Russia include Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, funded by the United States.

Russia began labeling the media as such after Kremlin-funded RT television registered as a foreign agent in the United States in 2017 under pressure due to concerns about Russian influence in the previous year’s elections.

Under US regulations, RT must label the material as on behalf of a foreign government and must report its dealings to authorities, but its coverage is not restricted.

Since then, Washington has separately stated that the Chinese state-funded outlets are part of foreign missions.

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