Russia just stepped closer to information authoritarianism. All who value the free exchange of ideas should fear what this portends.

On Monday, Vladimir Putin signed into law new fines for those who spread what authorities consider falsehoods, as well as for those who demonstrate “blatant disrespect” for the state.

Most countries prohibit libel and ban speech that incites violence. Only the most repressive make the state the sole arbiter of such judgments or seek to outlaw criticism of the government.

In that last respect, Russia joins a club that includes North Korea, Turkey, Cuba and Syria. Circulating false information that leads to a “violation of public order” (say, a protest?) triggers a 400,000 ruble ($6,000) fine, and many times that for repeat offenders. Showing “blatant disrespect” for the state, official government symbols or the Russian Constitution triggers a large fine, too. Repeat offenders can land in jail.

And Russia’s prosecutor general can step in, without a court ruling, and block access to websites.

When the government claims the power to censor and intimidate political opponents, we go down a dark road. It’s a road that Putin buddy President Trump – who has dreamed of rewriting libel laws, called “fake news” producers the “enemy of the people,” urged jailing of flag-burners and threatened punishing satirists – frequently travels, at least on his Twitter feed. Thank God for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


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