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Russian President Vladimir Putin has hastily passed into law legislation to combat "extremism" the effect of which will be to muzzle critical voices, several IFEX members say.

The package of amendments expands the definition of extremism to include public discussion of such activity, and gives the authorities the power to suspend media outlets that do not comply with the new restrictions, according to press freedom groups the Russia-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and ARTICLE 19.

Proponents say the amendments are meant to address the growing nationalist and neo-Nazi movements in the country. But the press freedom groups say the laws, introduced by deputies from the ruling United Russia party, are just the latest way for the government to crack down on dissidents. "They provide Russian authorities with yet another set of tools to silence critics and chill independent news coverage in the countdown to Russia's parliamentary and presidential votes," CPJ says. Legislative elections are scheduled for December 2007 and presidential elections are set for March 2008.

According to the press freedom groups, the amendments refer to 13 aspects of extremism covered in different laws and codes. They give the authorities broader grounds to tap phones, even for suspected crimes as minor as hooliganism, CPJ says. They require journalists to mention that an organisation is "extremist" in their reports if the organisation was deemed as such by the government or the courts. Those found guilty of disseminating "extremist" material - and no definition was given as to what that constitutes - can be fined, have their production equipment confiscated or have their media outlet suspended for up to 90 days.

The amendments also include a broadening of the definition "extremism", to include "hatred or hostility towards any social group" - with no definition of "social group" - and punishable with imprisonment for up to five years, says ARTICLE 19. They also punish those who provide "public support," "help" and "appeals" for extremism, and those who "publicly justify terrorism." "Such broad language could prevent media from reporting on public officials or powerful businesspeople," says CPJ.

According to CPJ, this is the second set of anti-extremist legislation introduced in little over a year. In July 2006, Putin signed amendments that broadened the definition of extremism to include media criticism of state officials, despite concerns from media, human rights, and political opposition groups.

Visit these links:
- CPJ:
- CPJ on July 2006 amendments:
- RSF:
- WAN:
- Glasnost Defense Foundation:
(31 July 2007)

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