Russia: Proposed amendments to Criminal Code threaten media freedom

On 15 May 2018, Russia’s State Duma unanimously approved proposed amendments to the Criminal Code (Article 284.2), which could be used to prevent the media reporting on public interest matters.

‘The proposed amendments mark a new low for freedom of expression in Russia’, said Katie Morris, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19. ‘They don’t serve any legitimate aim, and are aimed at stifling expression on controversial topics within Russia, particularly regarding human rights abuses occurring in the Crimean peninsula’, she added.

The amendments would criminalise ‘the provision of recommendations and transfer of information that has lead or might have led to the introduction’ of international sanctions, providing for up to three years’ imprisonment and fines of $8,000. This vague and broadly-worded provision is open to arbitrary and abusive application against journalists.

In a 15 May statement, Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, criticised the proposed legislation for its chilling impact on freedom of the expression. He argued that its ambiguous wording could result in self-censorship in the Russian media, as journalists would be criminally liable for publishing ‘information that has led or might have led to the introduction’ of sanctions, regardless of their actual intent.

The amendment requires two further readings in the Duma and one in the Federation Council before President Vladimir Putin can sign it into law. The second Duma vote is scheduled for 17 May.

ARTICLE 19 has submitted an alert on this issue to the Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists.