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Putin Signs Amendments to 'Foreign Agents' Law

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his New Year address to members of the government, via teleconference call, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, Dec. 24, 2020.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law legislation that human rights watchdogs and opposition politicians have said will undermine democratic processes.

The legislation, which came into force on December 30, included a series of amendments to the controversial law on "foreign agents" to allow individuals and public entities to be recognized as "foreign agents" if they are considered to be engaged in political activities "in the interests of a foreign state."

Entities that have received the label will be required to report their activities and face financial audits.

Putin signed a separate bill imposing penalties of up to five years in prison to those identified as "foreign agents" who do not register as such or fail to report on their activities.

Grounds for being recognized as a "foreign agent" could be holding rallies or political debates, providing opinions on state policies, actions promoting a certain outcome in an election or referendum, or participation as an electoral observer or in political parties if they are done in the interest of a foreign entity.

Amnesty International has slammed the proposed legislation, saying it would "drastically limit and damage the work not only of civil society organizations that receive funds from outside Russia but many other groups as well."

Critics say the “foreign agent” law, originally passed in 2012 and since expanded through amendments, has been arbitrarily applied to target Russian civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and political activists.

Putin also signed a bill allowing media regulator Roskomnadzor to partially or fully restrict or slow access to foreign websites that "discriminate against Russian media."

The legislation is expected to affect major social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.