21 Apr 2022 21:51
The preparation of a new federal law on foreign agents is scheduled to be discussed Thursday in the State Duma Committee investigating interference of foreign states in Russia’s internal affairs. This was reported by the newspaper RBC.
At a session on April 21, the State Duma Committee investigating foreign interference in Russia’s internal affairs will consider drafting a new bill “On Control of Activities of Persons Under Foreign Influence”. This reported the newspaper RBC, citing two sources in the State Duma.
It is envisaged that instead of several registers of foreign agents, one will be created. One of RBC’s interlocutors explained:
“The aim is to introduce common rules and regulations for all categories of foreign agents.”
According to him, the legal norms regarding certain categories of foreign agents may differ at the moment. The bill provides for “uniform standards and approaches” for all categories. RBC’s interlocutor noted that the bill “does not tighten the screws” but simplifies regulation of foreign agents, which “should be transparent”.
The Russian Ministry of Justice currently maintains the following registers of foreign agents: non-governmental organizations performing the duties of a foreign agent; Media performing the duties of a foreign agent (this register also includes individual journalists); unregistered public associations performing the functions of a foreign agent; and individuals performing the duties of a foreign agent.
The bill also provides that commercial organizations can be included in the Unified Register of Foreign Agents, regardless of whether they are Russian or foreign companies.
It is planned to introduce a uniform procedure for removing all foreign representatives from the register. In addition, the Department of Justice must indicate on the basis of which specific legal provisions the decision to grant foreign agent status to each individual was made.
The issue of the need for changes to the legislation on foreign agents was last raised at a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and members of the Human Rights Council in December last year. At the time, Pavel Gusev, editor-in-chief of the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, criticized the lack of a “mechanism for revoking the status of a foreign agent”. He had explained:
“If a person, journalist or media outlet has completely denied the violations alleged against them, they also have the right to appeal and have the title of ‘foreign agent’ removed. This is not intended. We believe that this is also a major shortcoming.”
Putin countered that Russian media outlets abroad are also classified as foreign agents, “they will be summoned to court, they will be summoned for questioning, and if they don’t show up, they face imprisonment.” According to the president, Russia must both ensure freedom of speech and “protect itself from possible outside interference in our internal affairs.” Putin suggested:
“So let’s get back to this issue, work with the professionals and come to an amicable solution as much as possible.”
In general, the legislation on foreign agents has been repeatedly criticized. In August last year, about a dozen Russian media outlets issued an appeal to the President, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, the FSB management, the Prosecutor General’s Office and several other agencies, demanding that they repeal the law on foreign agents.
The term “foreign agent” was introduced in Russia in 2012 and initially referred only to non-governmental organizations: the relevant changes had been made to the Law on Non-Commercial Organizations. Individuals recognized as foreign agents are required to disclose their status in public materials and on the internet, and to submit reports to the Department of Justice.
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