MOSCOW - Russia's State Duma has approved legislation that would block websites that publish what the authorities deem to be "fake news" and penalizing websites that "insult" authorities, state symbols, and what the legislation vaguely describes as Russian "society."
To become law, the bills must still be approved by the parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, and signed by President Vladimir Putin.
Critics of the legislation say it would empower state officials to shut down websites that are critical of the Kremlin or other Russian authorities.
In the March 7 vote by the State Duma, 322 lawmakers supported the bill on banning so-called "fake news" and 78 voted against it.
The bill penalizing those who insult the authorities, state symbols, or Russian society was passed by a vote of 327-40, with one lawmaker abstaining.
The legislation would empower the state-run media watchdog Roskomnadzor to determine what constitutes "fake news."
It also sets maximum fines for publishing "fake news" of 100,000 rubles (more than $1,500) on individuals, 200,000 rubles (more than $3,000) on public officials, and 500,000 rubles (about $7,600) on companies.
The "fake news" bill says publications officially registered with Roskomnadzor, including online media outlets, will be given a chance to remove reports deemed as fake news before their websites are blocked.
It says websites that are not registered with Roskomnadzor will be blocked without warning.
Meanwhile, the bill that outlaws online insults would allow fines of up to 100,000 rubles, or about $1,500, for offending authorities, government agencies, the Russian state, the Russian public, Russia's flag, or the Russian Constitution.
It calls for second-time offenders to be fined up to 200,000 rubles or serve a jail sentence of up to 15 days.
It says those who violate the law more than twice will be fined up to 300,000 rubles and spend up to 15 days in jail.
Websites will be given 24 hours to remove material deemed by Roskomnadzor as insulting. Websites that fail to remove such material will be blocked, the bill says.
The legislation was not supported by lawmakers from A Just Russia, the Communist Party, and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party.