Kremlin Tightening The Screws

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The Kremlin plans to change the rules of its puppet parliament by granting the Duma presidium and ethics commission the right to recall the mandates of deputies without a court order. According to a draft bill being prepared by deputies of the ruling United Russia party, grounds for kicking out deputies would include: repeated no-shows at Duma sessions or committee meetings, “public statements that discredit the parliament or that are of anti-state nature,” refusal to declare one’s income, and abuse of one’s diplomatic passport for private trips abroad.

Also, United Russia is preparing a law that would classify certain media outlets as “foreign agents,” similar to the newly-adopted law on NGOs. The ruling party explained that many media outlets were being financed from abroad, were “interfering in politics,” and were acting as “organs of foreign propaganda.” Given that most such media were commercial entities, the law on NGOs would not enable the authorities to label the media outlets as “foreign agents.” The new label would apply to media outlets that received more than 50% of their funding from abroad.

Moreover, the Kremlin’s so-called Public Chamber was preparing a draft law on volunteering. Under the draft law, volunteer workers would not be regarded as independent volunteers but as members of officially registered organisations that would be responsible for the volunteer work. Volunteer organisations said the draft law was aimed at enabling the authorities to control volunteering and hampering the ability of citizens to organise horizontally. Other commentators said the authorities were afraid of any form of independent mobilisation by citizens.

Earlier, the Duma approved a bill that made libel and slander a criminal offense carrying fines of up to RUR 5 million (EUR 125,000). The bill has been condemned as a move by the authorities to increase their power to silence critics. Officials in Russia are often accused of corruption and abuse of power. Libel was decriminalised under Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency in December 2011, making it an administrative offense. Also, the Duma approved a new law that would allow authorities to censor the internet by blacklististing websites deemed undesirable.

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