US alarmed as Russia expands rules on 'foreign agents'
Vladimir Putin (Shutterstock)

The United States on Thursday voiced alarm after Russia expanded rules against NGOs and media considered "foreign agents," accusing Moscow of stifling free expression.

"Deeply troubled by Russia's intensifying repression of its civil society," Cale Brown, the State Department's deputy spokesman, wrote on Twitter.

"Changes to the 'foreign agents law' are particularly troubling, allowing authorities to selectively apply onerous registration and labeling requirements, veto an organization's activities, and imprison those found in violation," he wrote.

"We call on Russia to respect its citizens' rights."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has broadened the labeling of non-governmental groups and media outlets as "foreign agents," a term that harks back to the Soviet era.

Russia this month expanded legislation first passed in 2012. Among other provisions, "foreign agents" will now face up to five years in prison for failing to comply with rules.

Russia on Tuesday summoned representatives of media organizations listed as foreign agents, warning them to label publications with a tag and submit detailed paperwork or face fines.

Media outlets listed as foreign agents in Russia include US-financed Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.

Russia began labeling media outlets as such after Kremlin-funded RT television registered as a foreign agent in the United States in 2017 under pressure following concerns of Russian influence in the election a year earlier.

Under the US regulations, RT is required to label material as being on behalf of a foreign government and must report its dealings to authorities, but its coverage is not restricted.

Washington has since separately declared that Chinese state-funded outlets are parts of foreign missions.