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The Russian Federation has been the subject of international criticism owing to its role in producing and disseminating fake news during and after the 2016 Presidential Elections in the US. Fake news is mostly distributed through social media networks, which are widely available to the population in the Russian Federation.

Recently, the Russian Federation enacted legislation aimed at countering fake news. This legislation complements the existing Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies and the Protection of Information, which is the main piece of legislation addressing the spread of inaccurate or false information. Anti-defamation and anti-libel provisions of the Criminal Code establish liability and punitive measures for spreading libelous news.

Legislation of Russian Federation provides for access to legal information. Several official legal information portals provide free access to legal information and judicial acts.

I. Introduction

The Russian Federation has been the subject of international criticism for creating and disseminating fake news during and after the 2016 US Presidential Elections. The internet has been used as the main medium for disseminating fake news. Internet penetration is at a relatively high level in the Russian Federation, and according to the statistics portal Statista, it is projected that the number of internet users will increase steadily through 2022.[1]  Social networks have been the main channels for disseminating fake news. Statistics show that in 2017, 47% of the Russian population had an active account or accounts with major social networks, with the most dominant networks being YouTube and VKontakte.[2] 

The Russian Federation has created an infrastructure for the production and dissemination of fake news. One of the channels that produces and distributes fake news is the Internet Research Agency, a Russian entity created ostensibly to conduct internet research, but in reality serving as an internet troll-producing machine with the aim of shaping political landscapes internationally and domestically.[3] According to the US Director of National Intelligence, the Internet Research Agency employs an army of “content creators” who in reality created and multiplied fake social media accounts to conduct a widespread disinformation campaign during the 2016 US Presidential Elections. Additionally, other media outlets such as Russia Today and the Sputnik Information Agency were implicated for producing and disseminating fake news through various social media and other channels.[4]

The topic of fake news has been the subject of heated debates in the political discourse of the Russian Federation. Recently, the State Duma (the lower chamber of the Russian legislature) had to publish on its website a rebuttal of the fake legal news concerning a supposed measure under consideration that would have banned Russian citizens from purchasing a car if they do not have a parking space.[5] This example along with others was used by the group of deputies who introduced anti-fake news legislation that was later enacted. The enforcement of these laws, which are discussed in more detail below, remains problematic, as expressed by various government agencies and law enforcement bodies.

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II. Legal Framework

In March 2019, Russia adopted two anti-fake news laws, amending existing legislation governing the accuracy of information and prescribing monetary punitive measures for disseminating fake news.[6] The Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies and the Protection of Information (Information Law) prescribes legal standards for the production and dissemination of trustworthy information.[7] The Law is the main legislation in the information management field. Certain provisions of the Criminal Code prescribe punitive measures for the distribution of inaccurate, libelous, and false information, and for defamation.

A. Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information

The Information Law contains provisions aimed at countering dissemination of inaccurate or untrue information.[8] Article 3, paragraph 6 of the Law stipulates that the reliability and trustworthiness of information is one of the principles for the legal regulation of information. [9]

The Law guarantees freedom of dissemination of information unless it is aimed at “propaganda of war, [or] incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred and enmity, as well as other information for the dissemination of which criminal or administrative responsibility is provided.”[10]

If the news is distributed through a news aggregator, the owner of aggregator (only Russian physical or legal persons can own news aggregators) must be responsible for verifying the validity of socially significant facts, as well as preventing the use of the news aggregator to conceal or falsify socially significant information, and disseminate false socially significant news information under the guise of reliable messages.[11]

If any facts reflecting the falsification of socially significant information are found on the news aggregator, together with the distribution of unreliable information of social significance under the guise of reliable messages and distribution of news information in violation of the legislation of the Russian Federation, the authorized state bodies have the right to apply to the federal executive body exercising control and supervision functions in the field of mass media, mass communications, information technologies (Roskomnadzor) to take necessary measures to stop the distribution of such information.[12]

If the information is distributed in violation of the law, the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation or his deputies may petition Roskomnadzor with a demand to cease the distribution of said information.[13]

B. Criminal Code

Libel and defamation are punished under the provisions of the Criminal Code. The Code defines libel as “dissemination of knowingly false information, discrediting the honor and dignity of another person or undermining his reputation.”[14] The Code stipulates differentiated punishments for libel (monetary, compulsory public works, or imprisonment) based on its impact. Paragraph 2 of article 128.1 states that “the libel contained in a public statement, a publicly displayed work or the media, is punishable with a fine of up to 1 million rubles (approximately US$15,000) or an amount equal to the salary or other income of the convicted person for a period of up to one year, or compulsory work for a period of up to 240 hours.”[15]

Special (more stringent) provisions of the Criminal Code aim to counter libel and defamation of persons involved in the administration of justice (judges, jurors, prosecutors, investigators, persons conducting an inquiry, and bailiffs).[16] According to article 298.1 of the Criminal Code, libel and defamation of a judge, juror, or other person involved in the administration of justice is punishable by a fine of up to 2 million rubles (approximately US$30,000) or an amount equal to the salary or other income of the convicted person for a period of up to three years, or compulsory work for a period of up to 360 hours. Defaming the prosecutor, the investigator, or other person involved in the criminal investigation is punishable with a fine of up to 1 million rubles or in the amount of the salary or other income of the convicted person for a period of up to two years, or compulsory work for a period of up to 320 hours. Knowingly defaming persons engaged in the administration of justice and criminal proceedings involving the commission of grave crimes is punishable with a fine of up to 5 million rubles (approximately US$75,000) or an amount equal to the salary or other income of the convicted person for a period of up to three years, or by compulsory work for up to 480 hours.[17]

C. Anti-Fake News Laws

1. Overview

In March 2019 two laws aimed at countering the creation and dissemination of fake news were adopted.[18] The laws establish fines for knowingly spreading fake news, which is defined as socially-significant false information distributed under the guise of truthful messages if they create a threat of endangering people’s lives, health, or property; create possibilities for mass violations of public order or public security; or may hinder the work of transportation and social infrastructure, credit institutions, lines of communications, industry, and energy enterprises.[19] According to a legislator who introduced this Law, the level of trustworthiness of information will be determined by Prosecutor General’s office. [20] The latter will forward to Roskomnadzor a demand to take measures on limiting access to such an information.[21]

The Law on Amending Article 15-3 of the Information Law states that Roskomnadzor is to inform the editorial body of an on-line publication concerning removal of fake news. Upon receipt of a notice from Roskomnadzor, the editorial body must immediately take steps to remove such information and if it fails to do so Roskomnadzor must take steps to limit access to the online publication. In such cases the internet service provider must also immediately block access to the sites where the fake news is published. [22]

The Law on Amending the Code of Administrative Violations prescribes the following monetary punishments for spreading fake news.

  • For implicated citizens: From 30,000 to 100,000 rubles (approximately US$458 to $1,528). For repeat violations the amount of fines will be from 100,000 to 300,000 rubles (approximately US$1,528 to $4,580).
  • For implicated officials: From 60,000 to 200,000 thousand rubles (approximately US$916 to $3,000). For repeat violations the fines are set in the amount of 300,000 to 600,000 rubles (approximately US$4,580 to $9,100).
  • For implicated legal persons: From 200,000 to 500,000 rubles (approximately US$3,000 to $7,600) and confiscation of offending tools. For repeat violations the fines are set in the amount of 500,000 to 1 million rubles.[23]

Should the dissemination of fake information cause the “death of a person or harm to human health or property, a massive disturbance of public order and (or) public safety, the cessation of the functioning of life support facilities, transport or social infrastructure, communications, credit institutions energy or industry,“ fines are as follows:

  • For implicated citizens: From 300,000 to 400,000 rubles (approximately US$4,580 $6,100);
  • For implicated officials: From 600,000 to 900,000 rubles (US$9,100 to $13,700); and
  • For implicated legal entities: From 1 million to 1.5 million rubles (approximately US$15,270 to $22,900).[24]

2. Reactions to the Laws

The laws were passed by the Federation Council (the upper house of the Russian legislature) notwithstanding wide criticism from various government agencies and ministries, including the Ministry of Justice, Roskomnadzor, the Ministry of Communication, and the Office of the Prosecutor General.[25] As noted by the representative of the Office of the Prosecutor General, the broad wording of the bills would require extensive and costly linguistic expertise. Additionally, she noted that bills do not specify sufficient criteria for extrajudicial blocking of sites. In her opinion, this may entail “an unreasonable restriction of the constitutional rights of citizens to free dissemination of information.”[26] Similar concerns regarding proposed bills were expressed by the representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Communication, and Roskomnadzor.[27]

The passage of the laws has been met with criticism from various nongovernmental organizations as well. For example, members of the Free Speech Association, PEN-Moscow Association, and St. Petersburg PEN Club issued an open letter expressing the opinion that the newly-passed laws restrict constitutional freedoms of free speech and “establish the right of an official, at his own discretion, without investigation and trial, by his sole decision, to forbid the dissemination of any information” and indefinitely and “immediately” block any media resources on the internet.

Writers consider these bills as a manifestation of bureaucratic arbitrariness, a violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, and the creation of “unbearable discriminatory conditions for the Russian media industry,” as well as actual state repression against the entire journalistic and literary community.[28]

However, the spokesperson for the President of the Russian Federation expressed the opinion that a similar regulatory framework exists in many European countries, and that the reservations about the laws for being far-reaching in their scope are not justified based on past experience. [29]

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III. Access to Legal Information

The Information Law provides for the right to search, disseminate, produce, and transfer information. [30] Article 8 of the Law provides that citizens and organizations must have the right to access, inter alia,regulatory legal acts affecting the rights, freedoms, and duties of a person and citizens, as well as those governing the legal status of organizations and prescribing the powers of state bodies and those of local government.[31] Information concerning the activities of state and local government bodies is provided free of charge.[32] The Decree of the President of 1995 on Presidential Programs of Legal Informatization established the foundations for the digitization of legal information.[33] Additionally, the Federal Law on Ensuring Access to Information on the Activities of State Bodies and Local Self-Government Bodies provides the legal framework for access to governmental information, based on the principles of transparency, accuracy, and accessibility.[34]

Currently, legal information is available through the official legal information portal.[35] A centralized internet portal provides information about court decisions and other judicial acts.[36] Additionally, the State Duma provides a searchable database of bills.[37]

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Prepared by Astghik Grigoryan
Legal Research Anaylst
April 2019


[1] Forecast of Internet Users in Russia from 2015 to 2022, Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/567007/ predicted-number-of-internet-users-in-russia/, archived at https://perma.cc/L87M-DHQD.

[2] Penetration of Leading Social Networks in Russia as of 4th Quarter 2017, Statista, https://www.statista.com/ statistics/284447/russia-social-network-penetration/, archived at https://perma.cc/6FAT-F9Z4.

[3] Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution (Jan. 6, 2017), https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/FW3T-JUY2.

[4] Id.

[5] The State Duma Does Not Consider the Initiative to Ban the Purchase of a Car without a Parking Space, State Duma(Feb. 17, 2019), http://duma.gov.ru/news/29804/ (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/W63T-4FL9.

[6] Federal Law No. 31-FZ of March 18, 2019, on Amending Article 15-3 of the Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information (hereinafter Law on Amending Article 15-3 of the Information Law), http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001201903180031 (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/7YEP-QHU8; Federal Law No. 27-FZ of March 18, 2019 on Amending the Code of Administrative Violations, http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001201903180021? index=1&rangeSize=1 (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/E3CL-H6KM.

[7] Federalnii Zakon No. 149-FZ  ob Informatsii, Informatsionnih Tekhnologiiah i o Zaschite Informatsii [Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information (hereinafter Information Law)] N149-FZ, July 27, 2006, available on the official legal information portal at http://pravo.gov.ru/proxy/ips/? docbody&nd=102108264, archived at https://perma.cc/M75Q-8EBC.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. art. 3 para. 6.

[10] Id. art. 10.

[11] Id. art 10(4) paras. 2, 3, 12.

[12] Id. para. 8.

[13] Id. art. 15.3.

[14] Ugolovnii Kodeks Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Criminal Code of the Russian Federation], June 5, 1996, as amended, art. 128.1, http://pravo.gov.ru/proxy/ips/?docbody&nd=102041891, archived at https://perma.cc/ APZ9-5MZ8.

[15] Id. (translation by the author).

[16] Id. art. 298.1.

[17] Id.

[18] Law on Amending Article 15-3 of the Information Law, supra note 6; Law on Amending the Code of Administrative Violations, supra note 6.

[19] Law on Amending Article 15-3 of the Information Law,supra note 6, § 1.

[20] What Are Fake News and What Punishment Their Spreading Entails, State Duma, http://duma.gov.ru/news/ 29982/ (in Russian; last visited Mar. 18, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/G5D2-9LGC.

[21] Id.

[22] Law on Amending Article 15-3 of the Information Law, supra note 6, arts. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4.

[23] Law on Amending the Code of Administrative Violations, supra note 6.

[24] Id.

[25] The General Prosecutor’s Office Did Not Support Bills on Insulting Authorities and Fake News, Vedomosti (Jan. 14, 2018), https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2019/01/14/791325-genprokuratura-oskorbleniyah (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/QDJ4-BY65.

[26] Id.

[27] Ministry of Communications Will Not Support Bills about Fakes in the Media and About Insulting the Authorities, Ria-Novosti (Jan. 14, 2019), https://ria.ru/20190114/1549324352.html (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/R8P4-MMD9.

[28] Council of Federation Approves Anti-Fake News Law and Law Prohibiting Disrespectful Treatment of Authorities, NEWSru.com (Mar. 13, 2019), https://www.newsru.com/russia/13mar2019/fake_accept.html (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/6CY6-Q24Q.

[29] Id.

[30] Information Law art. 3.

[31] Id. art. 8, para. 4(1).

[32] Id.

[33] Ukaz Presidenta Rossiiskoi Federatsii o Prezidentsikh Programmakh Pravovoi Informatizatsii [Decree of the President of Russian Federation on Programs of Legal Informatization], No. 808, Aug. 4, 1995, http://pravo. gov.ru/proxy/ips/?docbody=&firstDoc=1&lastDoc=1&nd=102036941, archived at https://perma.cc/5YZG-33WY.

[34] Federal’nii Zakon ob Obespechenii Dostupa k Informatsii o Deyatel’nosti Gosudarstvennikh Organov i Organov Mestnogo Samoupravleniya [Federal Law “On Ensuring Access to Information on the Activities of State Bodies and Local Self-Government Bodies”], No. 8-FZ Feb. 9, 2009, art. 4, http://pravo.gov.ru/proxy/ ips/?docbody=&nd=102127629, archived at https://perma.cc/9WMX-5BS2.

[36] Pravosudie [Justice], https://sudrf.ru/, archived at https://perma.cc/4GKD-44RZ.

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Last Updated: 06/11/2019