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The Russian government has also applied the "foreign agent" label to NGOs, as was painted here on the wall of the Memorial human rights group in St. Petersburg.

Russia’s moves to label some individual journalists and bloggers as "foreign agents" are the latest step in the authorities' "systematic policy" toward obstructing the free flow of information, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says.

In a statement on July 3, the New York-based media watchdog called on the authorities to "reverse course" and allow Russian citizens to receive information and opinion "from a wide range of sources."

Earlier in the day, the Information and Communication Committee of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, approved amendments to a bill that would allow the authorities to label private persons as "foreign agents" if they work for media outlets the Justice Ministry designates as "foreign agents."

The proposed legislation would require those individuals to go through annual audits, submit biannual reports on their activities, and put a "foreign agent" label on all produced content, according to news reports.

The new amendments were prepared ahead of the second reading of the bill that the Duma initially passed in January.

The bill needs to be approved by both houses of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin before becoming law.

The head of the Duma’s Information and Communication Committee, Leonid Levin, who co-authored the latest proposals, told the Interfax news agency that the Foreign Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office would be responsible for labeling private persons as foreign agents "for additional protection of individuals from accidental decisions" from the Justice Ministry.

Bloggers who "simply repost information of foreign agents" will not "suffer," according to Levin.

The Justice Ministry will still determine which media organizations fall into the category of "foreign agent."

News reports said the proposed legislation also included provisions that would prevent websites or other media being blocked without a court ruling.

The bill has prompted concerns that Moscow could use the foreign-agent label against foreign correspondents working in Russia in addition to media outlets themselves.

It follows a law signed by Putin in November that empowered the Justice Ministry to designate media outlets that are based or funded from outside Russia as "foreign agents."

Russia says its legislation, which has been criticized by Western governments and media rights groups, is a response to what it claims is pressure on Russian media outlets in the United States. Washington denies it has pressured Russian media outlets.

The Russian Justice Ministry declared Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and several affiliated news services foreign agents in December.

Relations between Russia and the United States are severely strained by tension over issues including Russia's aggression in Ukraine and its alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

With reporting by Interfax
Belarusian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich attends a protest in Minsk last year.

MINSK -- Prominent Belarusian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich has been detained on his way to a rally meant to mock authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the former Soviet republic's Independence Day.

Statkevich was detained immediately after leaving his home in Minsk on July 3.

Statkevich and his supporters had called on Belarusians to demonstrate in downtown Minsk on July 3, which is officially celebrated as Independence Day and the day of liberation of the city from the Nazis by Soviet troops in 1944.

They called the rally the Act of Liberation and Solidarity and quoted what they claimed were words spoken publicly by Lukashenka in 1995 about Adolf HItler's Germany.

They quoted Lukashenka as saying, "The German order was formed [over] centuries, and in Adolf Hitler's time its formation had reached its highest point and [represented] what we understand as a presidential republic and the president’s role in it."

At least 20 activists and people who were giving interviews to RFE/RL were detained by men in civilian clothes on or on their way to Independence Avenue in Minsk.

Statkevich ran against Lukashenka in the 2010 presidential election.

He was arrested after attending a large demonstration protesting the election results, and spent five years in prison after being convicted of organizing riots at a trial criticized by human rights groups and Western governments.

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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