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The Kremlin human rights council has urged Russia's upper house of parliament to reject bills that would outlaw online "fake news" and material deemed insulting to the Russian state or society.

If enacted, the bills would restrict the freedom of expression, the Russian Presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights said in a statement on its website on March 11.

It called for the upper house, the Federation Council, to send the legislation back to lawmakers in the State Duma, the lower house, which gave them final approval on March 7, to be reworked.

The bill would allow the authorities to block websites that publish what they deem to be "fake news" and penalize them for publications found to be insulting to state officials, state symbols, or Russian society.

The presidential council cited the European Convention on Human Rights in its statement, saying that people's freedom of expression cannot be restricted exclusively due to doubts about whether what is being expressed is true.

The council is an advisory body whose pleas often go unheeded by President Vladimir Putin, his government, and the Russian parliament, both chambers of which are dominated by the ruling United Russia party.

It also suggested that fines defined by the bills were too high and could lead to the closure of some media outlets in Russia.

The "fake news" bill would empower the state media watchdog Roskomnadzor to determine what constitutes fake news.

It would set fines for publishing "fake news" at up to 100,000 rubles ($1,515) for individuals, 200,000 rubles for public officials, and 500,000 rubles for companies.

The "fake news" bill says publications officially registered with Roskomnadzor, including online media outlets, would be given a chance to remove reports deemed as fake news before their websites are blocked.

It says websites that are not registered with Roskomnadzor would be blocked without warning.

The other bill would establish fines of up to 100,000 rubles for insulting the Russian authorities, government agencies, the state, the public, the flag, or the constitution.

Repeat offenders would face bigger fines and could be jailed for up to 15 days.

Websites would be given 24 hours to remove material deemed by Roskomnadzor as insulting, and those that failed to do so would be blocked, the bill says.

The three parties aside from United Russia that have seats in the Duma -- A Just Russia, the Communist Party, and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party -- did not support the legislation.

If passed by the Federation Council, the bills would go to Putin for his signature.

With reporting by
Rune Andersen, head of the IAAF task force on Russia (file photo)

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has decided to maintain a ban imposed on Russia's athletics federation more than three years ago over doping.

Rune Andersen, head of the doping task force for the world governing body for track and field, said on March 11 that two “outstanding issues” need to be resolved for Russia to be reinstated.

Speaking after a council meeting of top officials in Qatar, Andersen said that the ban will remain in place until analytical data and samples collected from Moscow's former anti-doping laboratory earlier this year are made available.

"Logistical" issues have also held up financial compensation, including for the task force's costs, he said.

Athletics' governing body banned Russia in November 2015 after a report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency outlined evidence of systematic, state-backed doping in Russian athletics.

Another report a year later documented more than 1,000 doping cases across dozens of sports, most notably at the Winter Olympics that Russia hosted in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2014.

Russian athletes have had to meet strict criteria such as undergoing regular doping tests outside Russia in order to be allowed to compete in international competitions as neutrals -- and not under their national flag.

Russian officials have acknowledged that doping has been widespread but denied that it had been state sponsored.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and the BBC

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"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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