Terrified Of The Internet, Putin Signs Laws Making It Illegal To Criticize Government Leaders Online
from the freedom-is-slavery dept
Russia’s efforts to clamp down on anything resembling free speech on the internet continues unabated. Putin’s government has spent the last few years effectively making VPNs and private messenger apps illegal. While the government publicly insists the moves are necessary to protect national security, the actual motivators are the same old boring ones we’ve seen here in the States and elsewhere around the world for decades: fear and control. Russia doesn’t want people privately organizing, discussing, or challenging the government’s increasingly-authoritarian global impulses.
After taking aim at VPNs, Putin signed two new bills this week that dramatically hamper speech, especially online. One law specifically takes aim at the nebulous concept of “fake news,” specifically punishing any online material that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.” In other words, Russia wants to ban criticism of Putin and his corrupt government, with experts telling the Washington Post that the updated law effectively removes the pesky legal system from what was already a fairly draconian system:
“Prosecutors can direct their complaints about online media to the state, which can block access to websites if the offending material isn?t taken down.
This, experts say, is new. ?The Prosecutor?s office may now block such fake news sources prior to the judicial decision. It gives the Prosecutor?s office an extremely high authority and almost completely eliminates the Russian (albeit completely non-free) courts from the game,? Maria Snegovaya, an adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, wrote in an email.
?In other words, it significantly expands the repressive power of Russia?s repressive apparatus. This may be compared to the Stalin?s Troika, a commission of three for express judgment in the Soviet Union during the time of Joseph Stalin who issued sentences to people after simplified, speedy investigations and without a public and fair trial,? she added.
Websites that now spread “fake news” in Russia (defined as anything that criticizes Putin and his coalition of mobster oligarchs) now suddenly face fines of up to 1.5 million rubles ($22,900) for repeat offenses. Another companion law signed by Putin this week is equally problematic; it would update existing laws to make it a federal offense to insult the Russian government or political leaders. Repeat violators of that law face fines up to 300,000 rubles ($4,700) ? and 15 days in jail:
“The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech. The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that ?exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”
Both law updates quickly passed through the Russian Parliament in less than two months despite widespread condemnation and a petition of more than 100 journalists and academics lambasting the proposal as ham-fisted authoritarianism. It’s an amusing and slightly terrifying escalation from a government busted for pushing buckets of hateful and idiotic disinformation online, yet simultaneously pretending to wage a war against inauthentic news coverage and critical thinking. It’s clearly a model Putin hopes to export to numerous countries, not least of which being the already-factually-challenged United States.
Of course while Russia would frame this as a show of strength, it’s really a show of fear. This, combined with Russia’s efforts to disconnect itself from the internet makes it abundantly clear how afraid the government is of not only free speech, but its own people too. A Russian public that has not only been increasingly protesting these obnoxious internet restrictions, but also the underlying Russian economic problems Putin very clearly doesn’t want highlighted online.