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Russian Lawmakers Pass Bills On 'Fake News,' Offending Authorities In First Reading

Russian lawmakers have given tentative approval to bills prohibiting the spread of fake news online and punishing those who insult authorities with jail terms of up to 15 days, in measures the opposition says are aimed at curbing dissent.

The two bills passed their first of three readings in the 450-seat State Duma with 332 and 336 votes respectively, Russian news agencies reported January 24.

One bill proposed introducing fines of up to 5,000 rubles ($76) or a 15-day jail sentence on those disrespecting government agencies, the state, the public, the Russian flag, or constitution.

A second bill proposes imposing fines of up to 5,000 rubles on individuals who spread fake news and up to 1 million rubles ($15,000) on companies that do so. It also envisages blocking Internet sources that publish what is deemed to be fake news.

Moscow has implemented tougher Internet legislation over the past five years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and social networks to store users' personal data on servers within the country.

"These are crazy bills. How can they prohibit people from criticizing the authorities?" said opposition politician Ilya Yashin, adding that he expected the bills to become law.

The bills can still be amended and must be approved at two further readings in the Duma before they are approved by the upper house and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and TASS