President Vladimir Putin has tightened his grip on the Russian Internet by signing two censorship bills into law. One bans fake news while the other makes it illegal to insult public officials.
Russia has never really been a liberal democracy. It lacks an independent judiciary, and the government has found a variety of techniques to harass and intimidate independent media in the country.
But the new legislation gives the Russian government more direct tools to censor online speech. Under one bill, individuals can face fines and jail time if they publish material online that shows a clear disrespect for society, the state, the
official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and bodies exercising state power. Punishments can be as high as 300,000 rubles ($4,700) and 15 days in jail.
A second bill subjects sites publishing unreliable socially significant information to fines as high as 1.5 million rubles ($23,000).
Thousands of people in Moscow and other Russian cities took to the streets over the weekend to protest legislation they fear could lead to widespread internet censorship in the country.
The protests, which were some of the biggest protests in the Russian capital in years, came in response to a bill in parliament that would route all internet traffic through servers in Russia, making virtual private networks (VPNs) ineffective.
Critics note that the bill creates an internet firewall similar to China's.
People gathered in a cordoned off Prospekt Sakharova street in Moscow, made speeches on a stage and chanted slogans such as hands off the internet and no to isolation, stop breaking the Russian internet. The rally gathered around 15,300 people,
according to White Counter, an NGO that counts participants at rallies. Moscow police put the numbers at 6,500.
Russia's parliament has advanced repressive new internet laws allowing the authorities to jail or fine those who spread supposed 'fake news' or disrespect government officials online.
Under the proposed laws, which still await final passage and presidential signature, people found guilty of spreading indecent posts that demonstrate disrespect for society, the state, (and) state symbols of the Russian Federation, as well as
government officials such as President Vladimir Putin, can face up to 15 days in administrative detention. Private individuals who post fake news can be hit will small fines of between $45 and $75, and legal entities face much higher penalties of
up to $15,000, according to draft legislation.
The anti-fake news bill, which passed the Duma, or lower house of parliament, also compels ISPs to block access to content which offends human dignity and public morality.
It defines fake news as any unverified information that threatens someone's life and (or) their health or property, or threatens mass public disorder or danger, or threatens to interfere or disrupt vital infrastructure, transport or social
services, credit organizations, or energy, industrial, or communications facilities.