Tom Malinowski: Law on “foreign agents” is a sign of Putin’s fear of fellow citizens

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Democrat Congressman and former Director of Human Rights Watch in an interview with Voice of America Russian Service on the latest steps of the Russian authorities restricting media freedom

The State Duma of Russia at its meeting on Thursday adopted a law introducing a fine of up to 5 million rubles for legal entities and up to 100 thousand rubles, as well as an arrest of up to 15 days for individuals, for non-compliance with media requirements recognized in Russia by “foreign agents” . Earlier, on December 2, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law, according to which, individual citizens distributing messages of media-foreign agents or participating in their creation can be recognized as foreign agents.

Member of the US House of Representatives, New Jersey Democrat and former director of the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch Tom Malinovsky expressed his opinion about Moscow’s new steps to limit press freedom in an exclusive interview with the Voice of America Russian service.


Danila Galperovich: What was your first reaction to the news that now in Russia any citizen publishing social media materials that the Russian government had previously decided to provide with the “foreign agent” stamp can be called a “foreign agent”?

Tom Malinowski: I think this is another sign of how much Putin fears his fellow citizens. This is not a law against “foreign agents” – it is a law against Russians who share information about life in their own country, seek the truth about their country, and try to communicate this truth. For many years, repressions against independent media have not protected Putin from criticism of his actions inside the country, so he makes his war against the Russians, who would like free dissemination of information, still brutal.

DG: How much does Putin’s influence affect the tense state of US-Russian relations?

TM: Putin uses US-Russian relations as an excuse for such laws, but I think that this actually reflects the state of his relations with his own people. Again, the years of repression did not suppress the Russians ’desire to protest corruption and cast doubt on Putin’s obvious desire to rule for life, so he continues to increase pressure. He blames the United States, as well as the state of relations between Russia and the United States, but in reality such are his relations with the Russians, and this is obvious to us.

DG: Russian parliamentarians and officials say that their measures against “foreign agents” are a symmetrical response to the actions of the US administration, requiring the American company created by the Russian state television channel RT (formerly Russia Today) to register as a foreign agent. Do you think so?

TM: It is not symmetrical at all. Russia Today works freely in the USA, they install their cameras right here in Congress, they broadcast freely in our country. Americans can distribute their video as much as they like, which is what happens. The only requirement was to register, but no fines are imposed on US citizens working for Russia Today.

DG: The State Duma adopted a bill as a whole, which allows to fine and even arrest people who do not comply with Russian requirements for those whom the authorities considered “foreign agents.” What do you think might be the reaction of Russian society to such measures?

TM: It’s not for me to make assumptions about how Russian society will react to this. But I will not be surprised if such measures are introduced, because we know cases where Russian journalists and activists have experienced much more serious measures of pressure than administrative arrest for sharing information about corruption and crimes committed by the Putin regime. I think that such punishments will be another sign that the situation in Russia is getting worse.

DG: So far, from journalistic organizations, the status of “foreign agents” in Russia has been assigned to those media funded by the US Congress. How do you think the United States government should react to this?

TM: Our reaction should be the continued protection of human rights in Russia and around the world, the continued detection of corruption in Russia and the world, the continued ban on corrupt officials from Russia using our banks, property, and the economy as a whole. Such measures make Putin nervous, and we will continue to introduce them. We hope that Russians will have the same right to reveal the country’s problems as the citizens of the United States use. As you know, we are now in Congress involved in a process that could potentially lead to impeachment of the US president. I would like Russian citizens to have the same opportunity to choose their representatives who could investigate the misconduct of their president, and if they are found, remove him from his post in the process regulated by law. I think Putin sees how this is happening in the United States, and that makes him more afraid.

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