Duma Bill Would Ban Reproducing ‘Statements by Terrorists’ (updated)

Robert Shlegel. Source: Dni.ru

Update 4/6/10: The Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, turned down the State Duma’s bill during it’s Tuesday session. Mihkail Kapura, deputy chairman of the judicial committee, cited a lack of viability to implement such restrictions and the danger of bringing about the destruction of free speech.

A new law passed on Monday by the Russian State Duma will ban the media from reproducing any statements whatsoever issued by anyone deemed to be a terrorist, ITAR-TASS reports.

The bill was written by Robert Shlegel, a member of the leading United Russia party and former press secretary for the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi. It will amend current legislation governing the media to include a ban on “the distribution of any material from persons wanted for or convicted of participating in terrorist activities.”

Shlegel said that the March 29 suicide bombings on the Moscow metro, which killed 40 people and injured more than 100, was the impetus for the bill. He said that he opposes giving a spotlight in the media to Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel leader who has claimed responsibility for the attacks. He also criticized Google for allowing its YouTube video service to host a recording of Umarov’s post-March 29 statement.

“News about militants should consist only of reports about their destruction,” Shlegel concluded.

Amidst the heightened criticism at the Russian government’s failure to address terrorism originating in the country’s volatile North Caucasus region, some Kremlin supporters have accused the press of being terrorist collaborators. In particular, State Duma Speaker and United Russia member Boris Gryzlov singled out columnist Aleksandr Minkin of the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper as collaborating with the terrorists responsible for the March 29 attacks. Minkin has demanded an apology from Gryzlov and threatened to sue him for slander. Gryzlov has threatened a counter suit. Additionally, United Russia member Andrei Isayev has threatened that party members might sue Minkin for being a terrorist collaborator.

Director Oleg Panfilov of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations said that the new law will turn Russia into a country like North Korea and was another example of Shlegel’s “routine stupidity.” “It immediately raises the question,” he said, “Who do we label as terrorists? Those convicted by the court, or those that the bureaucrats consider to be terrorists?”

Secretary Mikhail Fedotov of the Russian Union of Journalists explained that nothing good could result from Russian society being deprived of information about the positions and confessions of alleged terrorists. “Society should know the face of its villains and understand what kind of evil it is being confronted with,” he stressed.

Even without the new law, the Russian media already faces complications with the authorities’ interpretation of current media legislation. Reports surfaced late Monday that the federal communications supervisory agency Roskomnadzor has accused the online edition of the Argumenty Nedeli newspaper of extremism for posting a video of Umarov’s statement. According to the agency, posting the video violates a law prohibiting the media from being used for extremist activity. The law, however, is criticized by oppositionists and human rights groups as being so vague as to allow the government to define extremism however they’d like, and has resulted in crackdowns on a wide variety of groups and individuals critical of the Kremlin.