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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | Russia Threatens Free Speech with Loyalty Law for Foreigners

Putin's new loyalty pledge law is a case of "shooting one's self in the foot" and will only succeed in isolating Russia further in international society.

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A view of the Kremlin and St Basil's Cathedral on a frosty day in Moscow. December 7, 2023. (©REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)

Moscow's interior ministry is drafting a law to require foreigners entering Russia to sign a "loyalty pledge." Such a law formally controlling speech did not exist even during the reign of terror under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Russia should scrap this ill-advised legislation immediately without submitting it to the Dumas.

Russia will hold a presidential election in March 2024. The proposed law is likely an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to prevent Western countries from influencing the Russian electorate. Putin continues to call his invasion of Ukraine a "special military operation." 

This attempt to extend the speech controls on the Russian people to foreigners is certain to elicit a backlash from the international community.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks from Southern Russia on December 5, 2023 (©AP via Kyodo)

Aim of the New Law

State-owned Tass News Agency explained the service to outsiders. It reports the law will apply to foreigners planning to stay in Russia for a given period. For those individuals, the law would also prohibit any action "interfering with the activities of public authorities of the Russian Federation and domestic state policy of the Russian Federation, public authorities and their officials." 

Moreover, it would restrict the spread of information that contradicts "traditional values." Also, it would prohibit immigrants from disseminating ideas contradicting the value of marriage. That includes its definition as solely constituting a union between a man and a woman. Spreading information about sexual minorities would also be prohibited.

Furthermore, they would be barred from "distorting the historical truth." That refers to situations like the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in World War II. Russia calls it the "Great Patriotic War." 

Tass has not reported the penalties for violation of the proposed law. However, the Putin regime has already imposed "entry bans" on citizens of certain Western countries, including Japan, that it deems "unfriendly." 

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The goal appears to be to label citizens and organizations that oppose Putin's war of aggression as "foreign agents." That is synonymous with spying. Moscow plans to use the law to nip their activities in the bud. 

Russian opposition figure Mikhail Kasyanov attends a rally in Moscow, Russia on February 29, 2020. (©REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo)

Russian Citizens, Foreign Journalists Arrested 

Quite recently, former Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Kunadze and Mikhail Kasyanov, who served as prime minister in Putin's first term in power, were added to the registry of foreign agents by the justice ministry. Both men had become vocal critics of Putin's rule. 

Also, not long ago, a man wrote he opposed "war" in the snow with his finger in a public park. For that, he was sentenced to 10 days in jail. Above all, Such restrictions on free expression, which become more draconian by the day, are unacceptable. 

Evan Gershkovich, a Moscow-based reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was arrested and charged with espionage in March 2023. Accused of "publishing a series of articles containing falsehoods about Russia," he also remains in custody. 

US journalist
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich appeared in a courtroom for a hearing to consider related to his detention in Moscow. April 18, 2023. (© REUTERS/Yulia Morozova)

Cutting Ties with the Outside World

If only foreigners who pledge to act with "loyalty" towards the Russian government are allowed to enter the country, it would greatly reduce free exchanges with foreign countries. Moreover, Russia's international isolation would further deepen.

The Putin regime is only strangling itself with the proposed Russian "loyalty" law that has no international precedent. It should quickly realize this fact and stop it.

Georgy Kunadze, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, on February 26, 2013 (©Sankei Shimbun)

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun 

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