Russia: Putin signs off law targeting journalists as 'foreign agents'

Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a controversial law on Monday which gives the government the right to register independent journalists, bloggers, and social media users as "foreign agents,” a term that has Soviet-era overtones.

The legislation is an expansion of a law that was adopted by Russia in 2012 which gave authorities the power to brand NGOs as foreign agents.

That law was amended in 2017 to label internationally funded media outlets as "foreign agents” as well, in retaliation for a similar move made by the United States, targeting Russia's foreign broadcaster RT and the Sputnik news agency.

Read more: Russian senators pass 'foreign agent' media law, send to Vladimir Putin to sign

The new law can apply to anyone who distributes content that is produced by media outlets registered as foreign agents and receives payments from abroad.

Individuals will be subject to additional government scrutiny.

The move has been criticized as a further restriction on freedom of expression and allowing authorities to crack down on dissent.

Nine human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had called for the legislation to be dropped as it was being approved by lawmakers.

Read more: Russia brands opposition leader Navalny anti-corruption group a 'foreign agent'

The bill's authors said it's meant to "perfect” existing legislation on foreign agents that covers NGOs and media organizations.

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny's organization has been labeled a foreign agent, as has the US-funded Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.

The law will come into effect immediately.

mmc/aw (AFP, AP)