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New Russian law fines, imprisons authors of ‘disrespectful’ online posts

President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with Russian Defence Ministry top officials and representatives of the Russian Defense Industry, at Bocharov Ruchei residence. (Klimentyev Mikhail/TASS /ZUMA Press/TNS)
March 09, 2019

Anyone in Russia who makes an online post that is seen as disrespectful to the President, state or government officials, will be jailed for 15 days and heavily fined once Putin signs a new law.

This law was passed on Sunday by Russia’s parliament and will enforce impose fines of up to 100,000 rubles and jail time if an online post reveals a “blatant disrespect for society, the country, Russia’s official state symbols, the constitution, or the authorities,” according to the Guardian.

Russians can be legally prosecuted for even making jokes about Putin or the parliament if they are seen in any way to be disrespectful.

Private citizens posting “fake news” can incur fines of between $45 and $75, and businesses would face larger fines upward of $15,000, CNN reported.

Sergey Shvakin, a lawyer who practices in Moscow, said, “Soon we’ll be telling jokes about the authorities in whispers in the kitchen.”

Putin has been well-known for his disdain over jokes aimed at him, which he displayed early on in his presidency.

A comedy called Kukly (Puppets) that aired on NTV television was targeted and taken under state control shortly after Putin took office in 2000. Putin was portrayed as an evil, infant gnome burbling vulgarities in the show, which infuriated him.

The law was brought forth by Andrei Klishas, a senator from Putin’s ruling United Russia party, and faced high scrutiny from government officials. Deputy communications minister Alexei Volin said, “One of the tasks of government bodies is to calmly hear out criticism of its work.”

“If we stop calling a fool a fool, he won’t stop being a fool,” said Sergei Ivanov, an MP with the nationalist LDPR party.

Klishas’s introduction of the law has been called censorship by many, an allegation that he says is not true. He argued that authorities were “in and of themselves worthy of respect.”

Klishin introduced an additional bill that the parliament approved, where officials will have the right to block webpages that publish “disrespectful” material or “fake news.” He added that “traditional media” would not be included in that legislation.

In January, a poll reported that Putin’s trust ratings were the lowest they have been in 13 years — at just 33 percent — after he raised the national retirement age by five years.

Russians were livid after Putin made the decision, contributing to his loss of popularity. The poll was conducted by the state-backed Public Opinion Research Centre, revealing a drop in Putin’s support by 37 percent since 2015.