The Russian parliament has passed a law that allows courts to jail people for online ‘disrespect’ of government or state officials, including the president Vladimir Putin.
The law, which critics say is reminiscent of Soviet-era legislation, will see fines of up to 100,000 roubles (£1,155) dished out to people who post ‘indecent’ content that demonstrates ‘blatant disrespect for society, the country, Russia’s official state symbols, the constitution, or the authorities’.
Repeat offenders will see fines doubled or receive up to 15 days imprisonment, The Guardian reports.
A second bill going through parliament prohibits sharing ‘false information of public interest, shared under the guise of fake news’, according to the TASS state news agency, BBC News reports.
President Putin is expected to sign both bills through once they have received approval from the upper house, the Federation Council. Both bills will be considered on Wednesday (March 13).
Concerns have been raised around the vague language in the legislation that could allow the state to prosecute people for making satirical comments or memes which could be seen as a sign of ‘disrespect’.
Sergey Shvakin, a Moscow-based lawyer, wrote on Facebook:
Soon we’ll be telling jokes about the authorities in whispers in the kitchen.
Criticism has also been directed towards the law from within the government.
Alexei Volin, the deputy communications minister, told the Vedomosti newspaper:
One of the tasks of government bodies is to calmly hear out criticism of its work.
Volin’s sentiments were echoed by Sergei Ivanov, a nationalist LDPR party MP, who said, ‘If we stop calling a fool a fool, he won’t stop being a fool.’
Putin’s trust ratings have dropped to a 13-year low of 33 per cent following an unpopular move to raise the national retirement age by five years. The January poll, carried out by the state-backed Public Opinions Research Centre, saw a decline of 37 percentage points from 2015.
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Tim Horner is a sub-editor at UNILAD. He graduated with a BA Journalism from University College Falmouth before most his colleagues were born. A previous editor of adult mags, he now enjoys bringing the tone down in the viral news sector.