Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website] on Monday signed [press release] a bill into the law that re-criminalizes slander and libel in the country. The law defines slander as "knowingly disseminating false information defaming the honour and dignity or undermining the reputation of another person." The legislation was approved [JURIST report] by the Russian State Duma [official website, in Russian] earlier this month. Russia decriminalized the offenses of slander and libel six months ago, making them adminstrative offenses rather than criminal. The new law reinstates criminal penalties for the offenses, some of which are harsher than previous penalties. In a press release, the president's office said the law was designed to protect the constitutional rights of citizens.
Rights groups and politicians in Russia have expressed concern over other recently passed laws they say are aimed at restricting civil rights. Last week, Putin signed [JURIST report] into law a bill that labels all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive foreign funding as "foreign agents" and requires them to register with the Justice Ministry. Opponents of this new law say that its purpose is to curb free speech [RFE/RL report] and limit information available to the public. Earlier this month, Russian politicians asked [JURIST report] the country's constitutional court to review a recently passed law that increases penalties against protesters who violate regulations. The State Duma also recently approved a bill regulating Internet use that some fear the government will use to oppress speech. In May Russia also for the first time convicted a gay rights activist [JURIST report] under a law prohibiting the spread of "homosexual propaganda" to minors, which caused concern from human rights groups.