Russia: Proposals to Extend 'Foreign Agents' Law to Media Outlets

Update: 04 Jan 2019 No state reply yet
Year 20 Nov 2017 Country Russian Federation Category Other acts having chilling effects on media freedom Source of threat State Partner Article 19 , AEJ , EFJ/IFJ Alert level Level 2
20 Nov 2017 Russian Federation Other acts having chilling effects on media freedom State Article 19 , AEJ , EFJ/IFJ Level 2
No state reply yet

On 10 November 2017, Russian legislators announced that they were drafting amendments to Russia’s 2012 ‘Foreign Agents Law’, extending its provisions to foreign-owned media outlets. These amendments have been portrayed as a ‘tit-for-tat’ retaliation in response to the US Department of Justice requiring Russian state-funded TV Channel RT to register under the US Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). The Russian amendments were approved on 15 November by the lower house of parliament. They must now be approved by the upper house of parliament, before being signed into law by President Putin. It is understood that the upper house will discuss the amendments on Wednesday 22 November. The Foreign Agents Law currently requires all Russian NGOs receiving foreign funding and engaged in loosely defined ‘political activities’ to register as ‘foreign agents.’ NGOs must indicate their ‘foreign agent’ status in publications, and are subject to onerous reporting requirements, special inspection orders, and restrictions on the activities they may undertake. Criminal and administrative sanctions for non-compliance include, inter alia, fines of up to 500,000 roubles ($16,000) or imprisonment of up to two years. The amendments would extend this legislation to cover media outlets registered in foreign countries, and receiving funding from a variety of foreign actors. Once registered as a ‘foreign agent’, the outlet would be obliged to label all transmissions and publications as produced by a ‘foreign agent’.

Updates

New 04 Jan 2019 : On 2 January 2019, RFE/RL said it will appeal to the Supreme Court of Russia to throw out the 100,000 ruble fine imposed on it in July 2018 under the "foreign-agent" law. On 13 December 2018, the Moscow City Court rejected RFE/RL's appeal following the 21 August 2018 district court decision upholding the fine that was imposed over what the courts ruled was RFE/RL’s failure to comply with obligations to report on its operations in Russia following the designation of it as “foreign agents” by the Justice Ministry in December 2017. RFE/RL has paid the fine but contends that it was unable to fulfill the reporting requirement by the 15 April 2018 deadline because the Justice Ministry, despite repeated requests, failed to provide forms and set out the details of the reporting procedure in a timely manner.
06 Dec 2017 : On 5 December 2017, Russia`s Justice Ministry announced that it had designated nine U.S. government-funded press outlets as "foreign agents". The list includes Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and seven other affiliates.
27 Nov 2017 : On 25 November 2017 the amendments to the “Foreign Agents” Law were signed by President Putin, thus officially coming into force.
22 Nov 2017 : On 22 November 2017 the upper chamber of the Russian parliament approved the amendments to the “Foreign Agents” Law, extending it to media outlets. The law is now awaiting signature by President Putin.

Follow-ups

29 Jan 2018 : Broadening of "foreign agents" status for media in Russia detrimental to freedom of expression online, says OSCE Representative
20 Nov 2017 : Reacting to the new law, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights stated that 'these new restrictions on media freedom are highly regrettable'.
20 Nov 2017 : Registration of media as "foreign agents" not acceptable says OSCE media freedom representative

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20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Mehmet Altan’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Altan’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Altan’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.

20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Şahin Alpay’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Alpay’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments) of the Convention, the Court held that it was incumbent on the respondent State to ensure the termination of Mr Alpay’s pre-tria detention at the earliest possible date. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Alpay’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.
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