The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, has condemned a new law in Russia that will allow the government to declare individual journalists as “foreign agents”.

Under the new law, signed by President Vladimir Putin this week, individuals designated as “foreign agents” will be required to identify themselves as such on publications or face stiff fines. The designation can be applied to journalists who receive from foreign sources or who publish or disseminate news from an organization already listed as a “foreign agent”. The measure is an expansion of Russia’s current law on “foreign agents”, which already applied to non-governmental organizations and media outlets.

“Russia’s new law is clearly intended to restrict even further critical coverage of the Russian government and delegitimize the work of independent media in the eyes of the public, limiting their impact”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “The claim that critical media outlets represent foreign ‘interests’ and are therefore not to be trusted is a convenient smear being increasingly employed by states. Russia’s claim that this law is in retaliation for U.S. policy against Russia Today shows how important it is that democracies where media freedom is well established avoid policies that can give cover to autocratic regimes.”

Independent journalists in Russia have expressed deep concern about the law’s impact.

“It is a tool to silence those who are criticizing the government. Their websites and social media accounts will be blocked effectively forcing them into oblivion and stifling any dissent”, a senior Russian journalist told IPI on the condition of anonymity.

Some journalists suggested that the law was enacted to target Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and other foreign broadcasters who are funded by governments.

More than 60 journalists and activists had urged President Putin last week not to sign the bill stating that the label of foreign agent “discredits a person in the eyes of his fellow citizens and disparages his dignity despite the fact that he has done nothing wrong or illegal and did not carry out the will of any foreign employers”.