Russian Citizens Disrespecting the State Will Pay a $75 Fine Now

By Bill Toulas / March 8, 2019

The Russian parliament has passed a “lower-house” bill (No. 606596-7), that is expected to be approved by the Federation Council and signed by President Putin in the upcoming weeks. The controversial bill concerns a set of amendments to the existing “Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses”, and seeks to include disrespectful acts that take place online, through the posts of Russian internet users. According to the new penalty frame, offenders can face punishments of up to 15 days of detention, and 1000 to 5000 rubles in fines, which is the equivalent of about $75.

As the amendment proposal writes: “Distribution in information and telecommunication networks, including the Internet, information (materials), intended (intended) for an unlimited circle of persons expressing disrespect to society, state, official state symbols Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation and the bodies exercising state power in the Russian Federation, unless these actions contain a criminal offense, shall entail the imposition of an administrative fine in the amount of one thousand to five thousand rubles or administrative arrest on up to fifteen days.”

The bill was passed with the majority of the votes of the parliament (336 out of 450) and targets internet users who express crude and blatant disrespect toward government agencies, the state, the public, the Russian flag, and the Russian constitution. Now, this is naturally very concerning, as the body that will decide whether someone is merely expressing their free speech rights or going against the Russian symbols in a provocative manner is Roskomnadzor, and they are known to be as strict and callous as they come. The many supporters of the bill insist that it’s not meant to be used for the imposition of online censorship in the country but only acts as the plugging of a long-time legal gap. In the same set of amendments, there’s a second bill that targets companies for similar disrespectful acts, and also for fake news. The fines for them are much higher, reaching one mullion rubles, or around $15000.

Others, however, do not agree with this deceptively innocent presentation of the bill. As Ilya Yashin, a politician that belongs to an opposing party told Reuters: “These are crazy bills. How can they prohibit people from criticizing the authorities?”. Sergey Shvakin, a lawyer from Moscow, wrote on Facebook: “Soon we’ll be telling jokes about the authorities in whispers in the kitchen." while Sergei Ivanov of the LDPR party has stated that: "If we stop calling a fool a fool, he won’t stop being a fool”. 

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