Russia’s ‘foreign agents’ law – subjected to constant bashing in Western media – is much milder than its US counterpart, as it only applies to those meddling in local politics while on outside pay, Vladimir Putin explained.
“What’s wrong with the foreign agent status? We’re not the ones who came up with it,” the Russian leader pointed out during the latest episode of the TASS news agency’s series ’20 Questions to Vladimir Putin’.
“Seriously, was it us who invented the foreign agent status? This law has been in effect in the US since 1937 or 1938 and it still is,” he said.
The legislation in question, the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires that organizations advocating interests of foreign powers disclose their relationship with a foreign government. These entities should also register with the Justice Department as ‘foreign agents’.
“One such incident occurred just recently. A citizen of ours, a rather well-known young lady, was jailed as a foreign agent,” he said, referring to Maria Butina, who spent months in solitary confinement for failing to register as a foreign agent on US soil.
And pardon me, but she was faced with 12 years, right? So? They use it. We have no such thing. We only have an administrative penalty for this.
FARA’s Russian analog was adopted back in 2012 as part of sweeping amendments to the existing laws on non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It was later extended to a number of US-funded media outlets and eventually to private individuals, since foreign-funded organizations have been trying to circumvent the restrictions.
Now, the Russian ‘foreign agents’ law “exists simply to protect Russia from external meddling in its politics,” Putin said. And while some countries forbid foreign meddling outright, “we do not ban it.”
Nobody’s rights are being infringed on here whatsoever. There is nothing that runs counter to international practice.
“Some may be reluctant to say: yes, I am involved in domestic political activity and I am doing that using money I get from a foreign source,” the president acknowledged. At any rate, “it’s better to report this and to go ahead with this activity. So, the question is different.”
Putin went on to say the Russian legislation won’t remain static, as some adjustments designed to make the law as flexible as possible are in the works. The government is listening to proposals from rights groups who argue that the concept of ‘domestic political activity’ needs to be sharpened to avoid misconceptions.
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