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Don't Pass 'Fake News' Bill, Kremlin Human Rights Council Urges Parliament

The offices of the Russian Federation Council
The offices of the Russian Federation Council

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
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