In response to the Russian parliament’s approval of a series of repressive laws targeting independent expression, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The monthslong campaign to throttle open civic engagement and intimidate activists has culminated in an appalling new legislative package of punitive measures,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Freedom House’s Europe and Eurasia programs. “The swiftly adopted legislation dramatically increases the surveillance capabilities of the state, blatantly intimidates ordinary citizens sharing opinions online, and specifically targets the lawyers who serve as the last bastion of defense for free thinkers. The Russian government is using every available measure to systematize and legalize open repression. We call upon democratic governments around the world to demand that the Russian authorities abandon their repressive tactics and engage in constructive dialogue with civil society.”
On November 21, 2019, exactly one month after Vladimir Putin dismissed the head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, the Russian parliament passed a package of laws targeting fundamental rights and freedoms. The first and most draconian law updates the notorious “foreign agent” legislation, allowing individuals rather than organizations to be labeled as “foreign agents” for disseminating “undesirable” foreign media products. The loose wording of the law allows almost any individual to be fined and labeled as an instrument of foreign influence. Another law in the package prevents legal professionals who were stripped of their attorney status from attending court hearings or otherwise participating in legal proceedings. The law discourages future legal support to human right defenders by restricting their access to experienced human rights lawyers. Lastly, new legislation mandates that all electronic products, including smartphones, be sold in the country with mandatory Russian software installed, and that internet providers face up to $300,000 in fines for withholding encryption key access from the Russian security services, all of which undermines secure communication between individuals.