Russia: “Foreign Agent” Law to Shut Down Free Speech

By Huiyu Yin

“Foreign agent” in Russia is a term of art – widely and unambiguously understood to mean “spy” or “traitor.” The “foreign agent” law was first introduced in 2012, and authorizes the Russian Justice Ministry to label groups as “foreign agents.” Thirty groups have been branded so far, including the country’s most expert and authoritative human rights organizations. At least six groups have chosen to close rather be labeled as such. Other groups have been hit with steep fines.

On Jan 19, 2015, a new draft of the “foreign agent” law passed a first reading in the Russian parliament. According to Human Rights Watch, if adopted, it would further marginalize “foreign agent” groups by forbidding public officials from participating in them, and would sanction anyone involved with a group that the authorities deem “undesirable.”