Russian 'foreign agent' media law attack on free speech: HRW

Moscow (AFP) – A Russian law that could force international media outlets to register as “foreign agents” in response to US pressure on Kremlin-backed TV channel RT is an attack on free speech, Human Rights watch said Friday.

The legislation, which won unanimous backing from Russia’s lower house this week and is set to be voted on in the Senate, would allow Moscow to target foreign media in a similar way it has punished NGOs with international funding.

Many NGOs have closed in response to the intense scrutiny. Under the new legislation, US and other foreign media would have to present themselves as such on all paperwork and submit to intensive scrutiny of staffing and financing.

“The US government’s misguided decision to request for RT to register under (the Foreign Agents Registration Act) gave the Kremlin a platform to retaliate, and they have done so with a full throttle attack on media freedom,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“But sadly, the bill will not simply hurt foreign media, but worse, unjustifiably limit Russian citizens’ right to access information and ideas,” he said.

“This legislation is tailor-made to be selectively and politically enforced, and to silence voices they do not want Russian people to hear.”

The justice ministry said Thursday it had already contacted US-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to tell them they risked being forced to label themselves as “foreign agents”.

After being passed by the Senate, expected this month, the “foreign agent” amendments to an existing media law would enter force immediately on being signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

RT television, which is funded by the Kremlin to give a Russian point of view on international affairs, confirmed Monday it had registered as a foreign agent in the United States, meeting a deadline from the US Department of Justice.

Washington considers RT a propaganda arm of the Kremlin and told it to register its American operation under the Foreign Agents Registration Act aimed at lobbyists and lawyers representing foreign political interests.

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