MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a raft of legislation that human rights watchdogs and opposition politicians have said will undermine democratic processes.
The controversial legislation came into force immediately upon being signed into law on December 30 and included an amendment to a law that allows individuals and public entities to be recognized as foreign agents if they are considered to be engaged in political activities "in the interests of a foreign state."
Grounds for being recognized as a "foreign agent" could be the purposeful collection of information about Russia's military or military activities that could harm Russia's security; holding rallies or political debates; providing opinions on state policies; actions promoting a certain outcome in an election or referendum; or participation as an electoral observer or in political parties if they are done in the interest of a foreign entity.
Entities that have been branded as "foreign agents" are subject to restrictions such as providing financial reports on their activities and identifying themselves as such in publications.
Putin signed a separate bill imposing penalties of up to five years in prison to those identified as "foreign agents" who do not register as such or fail to report on their activities.
Amnesty International slammed the legislation before it was signed into law, saying it would "drastically limit and damage the work not only of civil society organizations that receive funds from outside Russia but many other groups as well."
Critics say the “foreign agent” law, originally passed in 2012 and since expanded through amendments, has been arbitrarily applied to target Russian civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and political activists.
Russia on December 28 effectively branded individuals as "foreign agents" for the first time, but on a Justice Ministry registry of "foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent." Three of the five individuals listed contribute to RFE/RL. The other two are activists who are not members of the media.
On December 30, Putin also signed a bill allowing media regulator Roskomnadzor to partially or fully restrict or slow access to foreign websites that "discriminate against Russian media."
The legislation is expected to affect major social-media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
Another signed bill prohibits the disclosure of personal information about certain “employees [of law enforcement agencies], their families, and assets."
The list of those qualifying for the measure is to be drawn up by law enforcement agencies and may include officials including judges, prosecutors, investigators, as well as employees at the Interior Ministry, the Federal Penitentiary Service, and the Federal Security Service.