MOSCOW – Russian lawmakers moving to further restrict freedom of speech sent bills on Thursday that would impose prison terms and fines to offend the government online or spread so-called false news.
The bills are seen as an effort to prevent and control public criticism because Russia’s long-term economic stagnation pushes down the Kremlin’s approval rating. They reflect a nearly two decade-long project by President Vladimir V. Putin to put the flow of information under state control, a pressure that became more difficult for the growth of the internet.
The new measures are waiting for the last passage in the upper chamber of Parliament and Mr Putin’s signature. He has expressed support for restrictions on insulting the state online.
Another bill would require news media stores and other sites to remove any information that shows “clear disrespect” to society, the state, or its symbols, the Russian Constitution or government. Internet service providers and website owners would have one day to remove the insults or face a complete block.
Lawmakers also sent a bill that would force websites to immediately remove any “false, publicly important information” that a government guard thinks is a threat to public order.
The actions did not clearly explain what would be considered false news. The authors said in interviews that this would be determined by the state’s prosecutor and the government’s communications guard.
The critics said that the measures were loosely defined for the government to be able to block information on the web that it finds undesirable.
With the bills “wording as” vague as possible, “said Vladimir A. Ryzhkov, an opposition politician on Facebook,” it will create opportunities for the utmost arbitrariness of law enforcement. As a result, society’s confidence in the government will fall and the public atmosphere will be poisoned. “
Since more Russians switch from TV – largely controlled by the state or Kremlin allies – to the Internet as their main source of information, the government has made the network under its control the highest priority.
In February, legislators proposed that the infrastructure would be different from Russia from the global internet Last year, the state banned Telegram, a popular messaging program.
The Russian government has opened its attack on so-called false news, even as the United States has accused Moscow of engaging in itself the practice through an information campaign designed to hover the 2016 US presidential election.
The new bills were transferred as the Russians’ trust in government and in particular Mr Putin has steadily declined, for the first time since the anniversary of Crimea in 2014, the number of Russians saying that the country is heading in the wrong direction surpassed those who say the opposite n. The result came in a vote carried out in January by the independent department of Levada.
The percentage of people who approve Mr Putin’s work as president has decreased by about 20 percentage points since reaching a post-war peak of 86 percent in 2015.
Nikolai F. Uskov, editor of Forbes Russia magazine and a frequent commentator, said that the bills were the government’s “weapons against the media”.
“The government is clearly ready to protest lawsuits will grow and that this will be reflected in publications in social networks and media,” he said, speaking at Ekho Moskvy, a radio station. “I don’t think this will save the state,” he added, “because the anger of the wave will sweep away any restrictions.”