Russia’s moves to label some individual journalists and bloggers as "foreign agents" are the latest step in the authorities' "systematic policy" toward obstructing the free flow of information, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says.
In a statement on July 3, the New York-based media watchdog called on the authorities to "reverse course" and allow Russian citizens to receive information and opinion "from a wide range of sources."
Earlier in the day, the Information and Communication Committee of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, approved amendments to a bill that would allow the authorities to label private persons as "foreign agents" if they work for media outlets the Justice Ministry designates as "foreign agents."
The proposed legislation would require those individuals to go through annual audits, submit biannual reports on their activities, and put a "foreign agent" label on all produced content, according to news reports.
The new amendments were prepared ahead of the second reading of the bill that the Duma initially passed in January.
The bill needs to be approved by both houses of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin before becoming law.
The head of the Duma’s Information and Communication Committee, Leonid Levin, who co-authored the latest proposals, told the Interfax news agency that the Foreign Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office would be responsible for labeling private persons as foreign agents "for additional protection of individuals from accidental decisions" from the Justice Ministry.
Bloggers who "simply repost information of foreign agents" will not "suffer," according to Levin.
The Justice Ministry will still determine which media organizations fall into the category of "foreign agent."
News reports said the proposed legislation also included provisions that would prevent websites or other media being blocked without a court ruling.
The bill has prompted concerns that Moscow could use the foreign-agent label against foreign correspondents working in Russia in addition to media outlets themselves.
It follows a law signed by Putin in November that empowered the Justice Ministry to designate media outlets that are based or funded from outside Russia as "foreign agents."
Russia says its legislation, which has been criticized by Western governments and media rights groups, is a response to what it claims is pressure on Russian media outlets in the United States. Washington denies it has pressured Russian media outlets.
The Russian Justice Ministry declared Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and several affiliated news services foreign agents in December.
Relations between Russia and the United States are severely strained by tension over issues including Russia's aggression in Ukraine and its alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.