Putin Signs Off On Harsher 'Foreign Agent' Law

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill expanding the definition of so-called foreign agents to include anyone who is "under foreign influence," a change that critics say will make it even easier for the state to target its domestic critics.

The law signed on July 14 will come into force on December 1.

Under the old version of the law, prosecutors had to assert that an individual charged as a foreign agent had to receive financial or material assistance from abroad.

Russia has used its so-called foreign agent laws for the past decade to label and punish critics of government policies.

The amended law also broadens the definition of political activities to include a vague clause covering any activities that "contradict the national interests of the Russian Federation."

Individuals who are officially labeled as foreign agents will no longer be able to receive state grants for creative activities, work as teachers, organize public events, or work for organizations that distribute information.

According to the law, the four existing registries of foreign agents will be merged and a new list will be created to register all individuals tagged as foreign agents.

Among other things, that designation requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and which the government claims are engaged in political activities to register as foreign agents, to publicly identify themselves as such, and to submit to cumbersome audits.

They also must label any content they produce with an intrusive disclaimer or face criminal fines for not doing so. Kremlin critics say the foreign agent designation is also intended to stigmatize any independent civic activity in Russia.

The foreign agent law has been increasingly used by officials to shutter civil society and media groups in Russia.

The original 2012 legislation, which targeted NGOs and rights groups, has since been expanded to target media organizations, individual journalists, YouTube vloggers, and virtually anyone who receives money from outside of Russia and, in the eyes of the Kremlin, voices a political opinion.

Many of RFE/RL's Russian-language services and 18 of its Russian-national journalists have been added to the government's foreign agents lists.

The U.S. government-funded independent broadcaster suspended its physical operations in Russia in March after local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against its Russian entity and police intensified pressure on its journalists. The bankruptcy proceedings stemmed from the company's refusal to comply with the labeling mandate or pay the millions of dollars in fines that accrued for not doing so.

RFE/RL has rejected the foreign agent label and insists upon the independence and integrity of its journalism.