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Russian State Duma adopts law expanding ‘foreign agent’ concept

On Wednesday, December 23, the Russian State Duma adopted a law on expanding the concept of “foreign agent” in its third reading. The law makes it possible for associations that aren’t registered legal entities to be labeled as foreign agents, as well as individuals, including foreign journalists covering politics.

According to the new law, an individual “can be recognized as fulfilling the functions of a foreign agent” if they are deemed responsible for carrying out “political activity” in the interests of a foreign government on Russian soil and/or for collecting information on “Russia’s military and military technical activities, which, when received by a foreign source, can be used against the security of the Russian Federation.”

The person in question can only be recognized as a foreign agent if they receive some kind of support from abroad, including funding, property, or organizational and methodological assistance.

Citizens labeled as foreign agents are required to apply for inclusion in the corresponding government registry, after which they are expected to report on their activities and spending of foreign income once every six months. The law prohibits foreign agents from working in the government and municipal service, and from accessing state secrets.

NGOs deemed foreign agents now have to submit programs and “other documents” on planned events to the Justice Ministry, and report on them afterwards.

When reporting on a person or an organization considered a foreign agent, or using materials authored by them, media outlets are now expected to say so in their coverage. This measure will not be extended to bloggers and ordinary citizens.

Another law adopted in its second and third reading today introduces criminal liability (punishable by up to five years in prison) for individuals considered foreign agents who fail to register their status or report on their activities. 

In December 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law allowing for people involved in creating mass media to be labeled as foreign agents. Moreover, individuals who distribute information from media outlets recognized as foreign agents and receive income from abroad (even if it’s for something else) risk being designated as foreign agents themselves.

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