The Russian parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, has approved a bill giving authorities the power to label reporters who work for organizations officially listed as foreign agents as foreign agents themselves.
The bill approved on November 25 says that individuals may be listed as foreign agents if they collaborate with foreign media organizations and receive financial or other material support from them.
The bill must still be signed by President Vladimir Putin to become a law.
Russia passed the original foreign agent law -- which requires all NGOs receiving foreign funding to register -- in 2012 following the biggest wave of anti-government protests since Vladimir Putin came to power. Putin blamed Western influence and money for those protests.
Critics of the law say it stigmatizes organizations with the designation and would do the same to journalists if they are labeled as foreign agents.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said on November 21 that the law "invades" the lives and security of reporters and "is reminiscent of the darkest times in Russia’s past."
RFE/RL has already been a target of the law.
On November 15, Russia's Justice Ministry listed RFE/RL's Sever.Realii website as a "foreign agent" saying the decision was based on conclusions made by the parliamentary committee on an investigation into meddling in the country's internal affairs.
"This law appears to be part of a dangerous, escalating effort to target RFE/RL journalists and other foreign media, and a further step toward ensuring that the Russian people only receive the information the Kremlin wants them to," Fly said in his November 21 statement.
In December 2017, the Justice Ministry listed Current Time TV, several RFE/RL services and projects, such as its Russian Service, Tatar-Bashkir Service, Sibir.Realii, Idel.Realii, Factograph, Kavkaz Realii, and Krym.Realii, as well as Voice of America, as "foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent."
Russian officials have said the law is a "symmetrical response" after Russia's state-funded channel RT -- which U.S. authorities accuse of spreading propaganda -- was required to register its U.S. operating unit under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
U.S. officials have said the action is not symmetrical, arguing that U.S. and Russian laws differ and that Russia uses its "foreign agent" legislation to silence dissent and discourage a free exchange of ideas.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based rights group, called the law "devastating" for local NGOs, saying more than a dozen had been forced to close their doors.
Russian Parliament's Upper Chamber Approves 'Foreign Agents' Bill That Threatens Journalists With Libel
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- U.S. Members of Congress on RFE/RL in Russia (Jan 21, 2021)
- Committee to Protect Journalists on RFE/RL and Russia's expanded "foreign agent" law (Jan 14, 2021)