Foreign agent law

Russia Explained

A handy way how to mark certain people and organisations as traitors of the state

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A woman holding a poster Freedom to Press. Image: Denis Kaminev/AP Photo/picture alliance via DW

What is it?

Foreign agent is a status under which some people, NGOs, and media organisations are forced to be registered.

  • Foreign agents are required to label everything they publish, including in social media, with a disclaimer indicating their status. The name itself has very negative connotations, suggesting spying,

  • They are subject to an audit scrutiny every 6 months,

  • It is impossible for the agents to teach or spread any information among minors, receive state funding, and fund political parties;

Non-compliance may lead to 5 years in prison and full organisational liquidation.

How is it acquired?

The people are forced to register themselves on their own if they fulfil the requirements. If itโ€™s not done, the status is assigned by the Ministry of Justice, no court decision is needed. The status is given if, 1) an entity is involved in any political activity or gathers any information that can be used by foreign entities against Russia, and 2) receives foreign money, and (or) is under โ€œforeign influenceโ€.

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Propaganda tool

However resemblant it might seem with the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), in practice the law is very different.

The name similarity has been extensively overused by the Russian propaganda, suggesting that if America has got such a law, then thereโ€™s nothing wrong with having one in Russia. At the same time, In Russian, foreign agent (ru: ะธะฝะพัั‚ั€ะฐะฝะฝั‹ะน ะฐะณะตะฝั‚) implies โ€œa spyโ€. Such label, apart from direct limitations, discourages all other organisations to collaborate. Additionally, working or quoting a foreign agent may affect your organisation as well.

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