MOSCOW — For years, nonprofit organizations in Russia have contended with a law branding them as “foreign agents” if they took money from abroad, presenting fines and bureaucratic hurdles that sometimes pushed those groups to shut down.
Now, individuals who publish anything online and get paid from foreign sources will face the same legal obstacles.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Monday signed into law several legal amendments that will require individuals to register as foreign agents if they publish “printed, audio, audiovisual, or other reports and materials” and receive money from foreign governments, foreign organizations, or even simply from foreign citizens.
Russian lawmakers passed the amendments to Russia’s legal code in recent weeks despite opposition from activists, public figures, and international critics, who argued that the new restrictions will further stifle free speech. Russians generally don’t face outright censorship online, but they increasingly fear legal consequences for posting anti-government messages.
The law would represent “a disproportionate interference in the freedom of expression and media freedom,” Harlem Désir, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a statement last month. “It may have a considerable chilling effect on journalists, as well as on bloggers, experts, or other individuals publishing information, particularly online.”
The lawmakers said they were responding to foreign agent laws in other countries, pointing to the case of Maria Butina, the Russian gun-rights activist deported from the United States in October after being convicted of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government.
Like many of Russia’s laws restricting freedom of expression, the new amendments appear likely to be applied selectively in order to serve as a deterrent. A lawmaker who helped draft the law, Vasily Piskarev, said he expected the amendments to apply to “a small circle of individuals.”
But in theory, any Russian who is paid by foreign news organizations, or simply posts on social media while receiving money from abroad, could be forced to register under the new law. Compliance would require stating publicly that one is a foreign agent and filing financial reports with the government.
Foreign organizations like the MacArthur Foundation have shuttered their offices in Russia in recent years in response to the foreign agent law. Some Russian organizations that get foreign funding, like the human rights group Memorial, have faced hefty fines for noncompliance — for instance, for failing to spell out their foreign agent status in an Instagram account.
The new amendments targeting individuals could apply to someone who posts on Facebook and receives income from a rental apartment in Minsk, a Memorial lawyer, Marina Agaltsova, said in a column about the law. It creates, she went on, “limitless possibilities for interpretation.”