Moscow - Russia's parliament approved an internet censorship law Wednesday that critics said allowed authorities to close unwanted websites and moved to reintroduce slander as a criminal offence, in a series of measures criticised by opposition activists.
Backers of the internet law, including the majority United Russia party, say it is designed to crack down on child pornography. They also say it could be used to block sites that promote drug use or urge people to commit suicide.
Critics say the law, which allows law enforcement authorities to blacklist websites and block them from the internet, targets opposition activists and parties.
The bill needs to be signed by President Vladimir Putin before it can become law in November.
Wikipedia on Tuesday closed its Russian language website in protest at the law.
Lawmakers removed a clause relating to protection from “harmful information” from an initial draft, which would have made it even easier to blacklist websites.
Parliament also approved the first reading of a bill drastically increasing sentences for slander which, activists charged, would enable Putin to crack down on the opposition.
The proposed law would increase slander fines from the current maximum of 3,000 roubles (about R700) to 500,000 roubles, or five years in prison, Interfax news agency reported.
The law would make slander a criminal offence again, less than a year after then-president Dmitry Medvedev removed it from the criminal code.
On Friday, parliament is to consider a third bill, according to which non-governmental organisations funded from abroad would have to identify themselves as “foreign agents.” - Sapa-dpa