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Russia14 April 2008

Alarm about proposed amendments to law on extremism

Reporters Without Borders is very worried about a proposed bill to amend the law on extremism that would impose further restrictions on press freedom in Russia. Drafted by the prosecutor-general’s office, the bill was presented at a meeting organised by the Duma’s security committee on 10 April.

“The amendments proposed by the prosecutor-general’s office are alarming,” the press freedom organisation said. “Russia’s law on extremism has proved to be a favourite method for harassing the opposition and the media. Although supposedly well-intentioned, the new amendments will just strengthen the ability of the authorities to silence their critics.”

The proposed changes would allow prosecutors to exercise additional control over publications, especially websites. They would, for example, make it obligatory to publish any official’s denial. A media would be held responsible for any failure to comply and could be fined from 3,000 to 5,000 rubles (90 to 150 euros).

As things currently stand, the obligation to publish a denial concerns only articles in which a person’s honour and reputation are at stake. The bill would extend this to any report considered by an official to be false. The Russian Union of Journalists has condemned the proposal, saying it would turn journalists into subordinates of the authorities.

The bill would also allow prosecutors to block access to online news and information regarded as “extremist.” If a website repeatedly posted such information, it would be blocked by ISPs for a month. A request from a prosecutor, without the need to obtain a judge’s approval, would suffice to have a site blocked.

The prosecutor-general’s office cited an increase in nationalist and racist crimes since last year as the justification for the amendments are needed.

In the law as its currently stands, “extremism” covers 13 very vaguely-defined situations. Under the amended version, it would include the “financing” and “organisation” of “extremist” activity “including by means of printed material (...) telephone connections or other means of information.” It would include “public support,” “help” and “calls” for extremism.

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