Russian lawmakers passed two new bills Thursday that imposes restrictions on the spreading of what the Kremlin perceives to be “fake news” and criminalizes anyone for “blatant disrespect” of the state.
The Kremlin-controlled lower house, the State Duma, approved the bills, which are expected to quickly pass in the upper house before President Vladimir Putin signs them into law.
The “fake news” bill bans the spread of “unreliable socially-important information” that could “endanger lives and public health, raise the threat of massive violation of public security and order or impede the functioning of transport and social infrastructure, energy and communication facilities and banks.”
The bill gives those who publish such information a day to correct or remove it. If they fail to do so, prosecutors will move to block them.
The penalties for “fake news” distribution will vary. Individuals, officials, and businesses will face fines of $4,500, $9,000 or $15,000 respectively.
The second bill introduces fines for publishing materials shows disrespect to the state, its symbols and government organs. First-time offenders will face fines up to $1,500. Repeat offenders could face a 15-day jail sentence, the BBC reported.
Members of the main Kremlin faction, the United Russia, who drafted the new legislation, argued that they were needed to protect the state.
"There is no talk about censorship," said Sergei Boyarsky, a deputy head of the Duma's committee for information policies. "It doesn't ban criticism of officials or expression of views and opinions that differ from the official line."
He argued that the bill is needed to block information that could threaten public safety, cause panic and provoke bank runs.
Critics see the legislation as part of Kremlin efforts to stifle criticism and tighten control.
During Thursday's debates, Communist lawmaker Alexei Kurinnyi warned that the authorities could use the "fake news" bill to punish critics.
Valery Gartung of the Just Russia faction also criticized the legislation, saying its vagueness will open the way for selective interpretation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.