Russia moves to criminalize investigative journalism with new bill

Written by Jeppe W

Dec.07 - 2023 8:24 AM CET


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A new bill introduced by members of Russia's ruling United Russia party in the State Duma is poised to significantly increase the risks associated with investigative journalism in the country.

The proposed amendment to Article 272 of Russia’s Criminal Code aims to intensify the punishment for leaking and utilizing personal data, with a specific prohibition on media disseminating private information.

While the bill doesn't explicitly target journalists, its implications are clear. According to the independent publication Agenstvo, the enactment of this law would be a significant setback for investigative journalism in Russia. Journalists using information from leaked databases, a common practice in investigative reporting, could face up to a 10-year prison sentence.

Such journalistic methods have historically been crucial in revealing significant information, including the identities of GRU officers involved in the Skripal family poisoning and the FSB officers implicated in the poisoning of Alexey Navalny.

The proposed law is particularly stringent on those it classifies as part of an “organized group,” which involves defined roles, responsibilities, and a planned course of action.

Under this definition, journalists working under an editorial board's guidance or freelancers collaborating on investigative projects could be easily categorized as such. Consequently, they might face up to six years in prison if charged as members of “a group acting on prior conspiracy.”

Given the bill's backing by influential Duma members, its passage seems almost inevitable. This development raises significant concerns about the future of investigative journalism in Russia, as the proposed law could severely limit the ability of journalists to uncover and report on matters of public interest, essentially stifling a crucial pillar of democracy and transparency.

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