Fake news crackdown: Refusal to refute false info could carry prison sentences under Russian bill

Several Russian MPs have drafted a bill criminalizing “persistent refusal to execute court orders on refuting false reports” with punishment up to a year behind bars for those who continue to spread fake news.

The sponsors of the bill are three MPs representing majority party United Russia and one MP from the leftist opposition party Fair Russia. In an explanatory note attached to the draft they wrote that those who refuse to stop spreading false information and refute it, after receiving a court order to do so, violate the main constitutional rights of citizens and should be punished accordingly.

Currently, spreading fake news falls under the Civil Code of the Russian law and is punished with relatively small fines or short-term detention. The lawmakers want to increase these fines and introduce administrative arrest as punishment for the felony. If editors of mass media and websites that contain false information fail to delete and refute it they could face criminal responsibility.

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The proposed draft amends the Russian Criminal Code with an article ordering that persistent refusal to execute court orders to stop spreading false information and refute it should be punished with fines up to 50,000 rubles (about $805), up to 240 hours of compulsory labor or up to one year in prison.

In mid-2017 two of the MPs who prepared the current bill drafted a motion ordering fines up to 50 million rubles (over $806,000) for owners and administrators of social networks that refuse to delete users posts despite court rulings recognizing that the posts contain false or libelous information. In mid-April this year the bill was approved by the State Duma in the first reading.

In 2016, Russia introduced the so called “right to be forgotten” law that enables citizens to file a personal request to have links to obsolete personal information deleted on indexing services.

The new law does not permit information concerning criminal prosecutions to be deleted or edited, even if the person has already served their prison term. In addition, a state employee cannot demand that information on their personal income or property be hidden. A search engine has three to 10 days to fulfill a users request, and non-compliance with the law is punished by fines of up to 1 million rubles ($16,100).

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