IFJ Says Russian Law Limiting Free Expression Must Be Dropped

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today urged Russian lawmakers to vote down legislation that could place severe restrictions on free expression by increasing the scope of what is considered “extremist activity” to include criticism of public officials.

“This piece of legislation raises grave concerns that the Russian government is attempting to stifle press freedom and any form of dissent in the country,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “This new law is far too vague and could make it illegal for media to publish anything critical of the government.”

On June 28, the Russian Parliament adopted in the first reading amendments to the 2002 Law ‘On Counteracting Extremist Activity’. The final adoption of the amendments would enlarge the list of categories of ‘extremist’ activity punishable by law. Extremist activity would include defamation of public officials if they are accused of committing a serious crime and actions “impeding the legal activities” of federal authorities or “linked to violence or threat of violence.”

The Russian government has said the purpose of the new legislation is to fight ultra-nationalism. However, existing Russian laws already prohibit inciting violent extremist activity or hatred based on ethnic origin, religion, or affiliation to a certain group. The new amendments, however, would make it possible for authorities to prosecute media for reporting stories that criticise the government.

“With upcoming parliamentary elections in 2007, it is extremely important that the media are able to maintain their role as a government watchdog,” White said.

For further information contact the IFJ: +32 2 235 2200

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in over 100 countries