Russian President Vladimir Putin Signs Bill Banning 'Fake News'

Russian President Vladimir Putin discusses preparation to mark the anniversary of the allied victory in the World War II, in a meeting at the Kremlin, in Moscow, on December 12, 2012. Putin recently signed into law bills that would outlaw “fake news.” Getty/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed into law bills that would criminalize publishing "fake news" or spreading "blatant disrespect" for the state or its officials.

Under the new law, prosecutors can complain about online publications that are releasing "unreliable socially significant information" to state watchdogs, according to reports. Those found guilty could be fined up to 1.5 million rubles, the equivalent of $23,000.

If the website fails to remove the material in a timely manner, the state then has powers to block the offending pages from their citizens.

"The Prosecutor's office may now block such fake news sources prior to the judicial decision," Maria Snegovaya, an adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, told The Washington Post. "It gives the Prosecutor's office an extremely high authority and almost completely eliminates the Russian (albeit completely non-free) courts from the game."

Online commenters could also face up to 15 days in prison or fines for materials published that amounts to a "clear disrespect for society, the state, the official state symbols of the Russian Federation, the Constitution of the Russian Federation and bodies exercising state power."

Although critics and free speech activists have warned that the law could repress political speech critical of the government and open the floodgates for state censorship, advocates claim it is a necessary step to minimize misinformation.

The move comes after thousands of demonstrators gathered in Moscow earlier this month to protest the government's plans to better control the internet by establishing domestic servers for web traffic.

Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute, at the Wilson Center, in Washington, D.C., told the Post that Russia "has not historically had major constraints on Internet freedom."

"The internet has thus been one realm in which full diversity of opinion and free expression, even on the most sensitive political topics, were generally permitted," he explained. "The prosecutor general now has essentially unconstrained authority to determine that any speech is unacceptable under the new law."

Throughout his presidency, President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the mainstream press, calling outlets "fake news" for reporting too many stories critical of him and committing what he believes to be biased reporting. These include CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post.