Council of the Federation Approves Bills on Defamation, "Foreign Agents" and Internet Censorship

Source: (info), 19/07/12

· Freedom of association  · Freedom of Speech

On 18 July the Federation Council approved the introduction of the "foreign agent" status for non-profit organisations, the creation of a single list of domains and websites in Russia with illegal content and the restoration of the article on defamation to the criminal code, reports citing RIA Novosti.

A law prohibiting all advertisements for alcoholic products on the internet and in printed periodicals was also approved in the same session, the last before the summer break. The Council of the Federation rejected a bill to designate the second Sunday in September as the single voting day so that further work could be done on the document together with Duma deputies.

The day before the Council of the Federation announced that it did not see any basis to the legal arguments put forward by the Head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights Mikhail Fedotov, who had appealed to speaker Valentina Matvienko not to approve these controversial bills. "I did not see any judicial or legal arguments in the letter sent by Fedotov, and all of the references made by Mr Fedotov to legal norms are not relevant here," stated the head of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation of the upper chamber of parliament Andrei Klishas. "Our chair Valentina Ivanovna Matvienko recommended that we take Mr Fedotov's letter into account within these discussions and we have reviewed all of his arguments." According to Klishas, Fedotov's arguments were carefully considered by the chamber but they ultimately did not affect the committee's stance.

Klishas also disagreed that the bills required public consultations. "What good would that do? The issues Mr Fedotov refers to require legal regulation and, in the case of NGOs, it seems to me that the longer we delay regulation the worse the situation will be. NGOs should be interested in ensuring that their activities are regulated by clear legal standards, the absence of which leads only to difficulties," said Klishas, who commented that he understands Fedotov's position but does not share it.

"The only danger lies in the incorrect application of the law; if this should happen many will be jeopardised," said Klishas about the law introducing a "black list" of websites. "If the law's regulations are applied correctly, the legal proceedings that follow will ensure that no one's rights are violated." According to Klishas, this also applies to the law introducing tougher penalties for defamation. "All of the arguments presented by Mr Fedotov can be categorised as either a value assessment or an emotive appeal. I repeat, I see no legal basis for the arguments he put forward in his letter," stressed the head of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation.

The chair of the Presidential Council on Human Rights Mikhail Fedotov wrote to the Federation Council on Tuesday with a request that approval of the laws be halted. "We believe that these laws, which have not yet been passed in full, approved by the Council of the Federation, or signed by the president, must be halted and submitted for public consultation," said Fedotov. "We may send a corresponding letter to the Council of the Federation. In that case, perhaps I will deliver it personally.

"Anyone who thinks that the Presidential Council will do nothing on the issue of these three laws is mistaken. We will continue our work. We still have the power of public opinion, the power of laws, the power of logic, the opinion of the international community and, as a last resort, the European Court of Human Rights," said Fedotov.

The State Duma decisively passed all three controversial laws, two of which were passed on the final day of the spring session.

On Wednesday morning activists from The Other Russia party picketed the Council of the Federation in protest against the laws recently passed by the State Duma. The picketers expressed their opposition to the laws on NGOs, internet censorship and defamation being considered by the Council of the Federation on Wednesday. The Other Russia activists also protested against Russia's joining the WTO. They held a black banner with the slogan "Damn you!" and handed out flyers which read: "We aren't demanding anything from the authorities. We are convinced that Russia urgently needs the complete removal of Putin's group from power. Only the fresh wind of Revolution will give the country a new fate." Officers of the Federal Guard Agency detained the activists holding the banner, Sergei Zaplavnon and Viktor Astakhov, who were taken to Tverskoe police station.