Russia: Putin signs off law targeting journalists as 'foreign agents'

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint video conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has signed into law an amendment that could require bloggers and independent journalists to register as foreign agents, a move that rights activists say poses a threat to independent journalism.

The new law gives the authorities the power to label reporters who work for organizations officially listed as "foreign agents" as foreign agents themselves. The law, quickly passed by parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin, comes a little more than a month after Maria Butina, the gun advocate convicted in the US, returned to Moscow after spending 15 months in a USA prison for acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

Expanding its ambit raises concern that it could be used to target critical voices.

Foreign agents are those who are involved in politics and receive money from overseas.

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Nine human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had called for the legislation to be dropped as it was being approved by lawmakers.

Moscow claims the law is a response to a decision by the USA government to require Russia's state-funded channel RT, to register its U.S. operating unit under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The law, which goes into effect on July 1, 2020, is also viewed by some as a way for the Russian government to use pre-installed apps as a way to spy on its citizens.

Moreover, the law envisages fines varying from 2 to 6 million rubles for repeated refusal of legal entities to hand over encryption keys to the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Foreign agent was a Soviet-era term of abuse for political dissidents.

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