Putin signs laws against 'disrespecting' authorities, fake news

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, March 18, signed controversial legislation that allows courts to fine and briefly jail people for showing disrespect for authorities and block media for publishing "fake news."

Putin signed off on the legislation against the advice of human rights activists, who warned the laws amounted to censorship and would be abused to crack down on freedom of speech.

The hugely controversial legislation on disrespecting authorities backs punishment for "offending state symbols" and stipulates hefty fines and jail terms of 15 days for repeat offenders.

Another law allows prosecutors to decide what amounts to "fake news" and gives a media watchdog the power to demand an outlet delete the information.

Websites that fail to comply would be blocked.

Fines could reach 1.5 million rubles (over $22,700) if the infraction leads to grave consequences like death or rioting.

Rights activists say that since first becoming president in 2000, Putin has gradually crushed freedoms in Russia, muzzling critics and bringing television under control.

The new legislation takes the crackdown on civil society to a whole new level, they say.

Critics say the legislation is vaguely worded and would have large scope for abuse, further complicating the difficult and sometimes deadly work of rights activists and opposition journalists in Russia.

Critics say the authorities seek to force Russians to respect the Kremlin amid Putin's falling approval ratings and mounting economic trouble.

Putin signed off on the legislation as Moscow marked the fifth anniversary of Crimea's annexation from Ukraine, a move condemned by the West but celebrated by most Russians. – Rappler.com