If Moscow legislators pass a proposed law to force large IT companies to maintain offices on Russian soil, Wikipedia could be registered as a foreign agent, and as such it may have to deal with numerous sanctions and restrictions.
That’s according to Stanislav Kozlovsky, the executive director of Wikimedia RU, the Russian arm of the online encyclopaedia’s parent foundation. Speaking last Friday at a meeting of the country’s parliamentary committee on technology and communications, he asked politicians not to pass the proposed legislation.
“If official representation of a nonprofit organization is established in Russia, it automatically becomes a foreign agent. It is subject to all the sanctions against foreign agents,” Kozlovsky explained, telling the MPs that Wikipedia is not run for profit and is financed by donations from users.
In Russia, any NGO receiving foreign agent designation faces multiple restrictions, including a prohibition on employing foreigners, and regular audits.
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The proposed law to force tech giants to create a base in Russia was put forward by MP Alexander Khinstein of the ruling United Russia party. If passed, it would regulate the activities of foreign companies whose websites are visited by more than 500,000 Russians a day. The legislation is designed to make these businesses accountable to the country’s laws. As things stand, foreign tech giants often avoid demands from the Russian authorities.
According to Khinstein, Wikipedia would not be designated as a foreign agent, as it is not engaged in political activities. However, Kozlovsky believes that current legislation would, in fact, apply to the website.
“I am talking to you now, and according to your law, that is political activity,” Kozlovsky said.
Another one of the bill’s authors, United Russia MP Anton Gorelkin, said that he also does not think Wikipedia would fall under the regulation of the legislation on foreign agents.
“Wikipedia is essentially a social network,” he wrote on his Telegram channel on Friday. “If we consider Wikipedia to be a political entity, as Kozlovsky suggested, then we would have to extend this attitude to all social networks in general. This makes no sense and is unrealistic.”
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