Russian lawmakers vote for jail penalties for online slander

Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a joint meeting of the country's State Council and the Council for Strategic Development and National Projects via a video conference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia December 23, 2020. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s lower house of parliament approved in its third and final reading on Wednesday a draft law on introducing jail terms for people found guilty of making slanderous comments on the internet or in the media.

The bill, which still requires the approval of the upper house and President Vladimir Putin’s signature to become law, has drawn criticism from opponents of the Kremlin who say the authorities could use it to jail critics and stifle dissent.

Under the draft legislation, a person convicted of slander on the internet could be jailed for up to two years and fined up to 1 million roubles ($13,300).

People accused of making “slanderous” accusations of rape or other grave crimes could face up to five years behind bars, the text of the bill says.

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny suggested that if the bill becomes law, it should be used against the Russian authorities.

“I remember very well how Putin declared victory over the coronavirus this summer,” Navalny wrote on Twitter, in a sarcastic reference to a surge in COVID-19 infections that began soon after the president’s remarks.

Russia has introduced tougher internet laws in recent years that require search engines to delete some search results, and messaging services to share encryption keys with security services.

Last year Russia introduced new fines for people who insult the authorities online or spread fake news.

($1 = 75.0850 roubles)

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Timothy Heritage