Criticising Vladimir Putin in Russia could become a crime under proposed law

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Vladimir Putin

A bill by Russian MP Roman Khudyakov is being prepared in the Duma (the Russian parliament) that could make insulting the president, Vladimir Putin, punishable by up to six years in jail.

Khudyakov stated the draft law was in response to several YouTube videos purportedly criticising the Russian president.

It is already illegal to insult government officials including the president, with a punishment of a year’s “hard labour”. Khudaykov stated in an interview that the main motivation behind the law was complaints from his constituents in the Tambov region. The YouTube videos in question contained satirical references to Vladimir Putin.

Read more: Belarus protests as Russia quietly plans air force base

The draft bill echoes of a law introduced toward the end of the USSR, and has raised concerns over freedom of speech in Russia. The Soviet law aimed to prevent “harming the honor and dignity of the President of the USSR”.

This new bill seems to have support in the Duma. Sergey Fabrichnyi, deputy head of the State Duma Committee for Criminal Law, said he saw “no obstructions” to discussion of the proposal.

Vladimir Putin’s crackdown

Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan all have similar laws already on the books prohibiting criticism of their respective leaders.

Previously, journalists have been hassled in Russia, and bloggers and media outlets with more than 3000 readers must register with the country’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor.

Some international groups like Freedom House have noted a decline in Russia’s civil liberties over the past decade.

Previously, the Russian Duma passed a bill banning “LGBT propaganda” in 2013, and may be seeking to expand the ban to criminalise any “demonstration of one’s distorted sexual preferences in public places.”

Despite criticism abroad of Vladimir Putin’s seemingly increased control of the media, and clampdown on freedom of expression, polls appear to indicate that he has a high approval rating in Russia. Many want Putin to continue to lead the country after the 2018 elections.