Lawmakers in the former Soviet Union are seeking to impose harsher criminal penalties for drug-related “propaganda,” especially online. Their efforts are ostensibly supposed to keep people from promoting drug use. But local advocates fear that this approach will persecute those doing harm reduction work for people using drugs or living with HIV/AIDS.

On March 3, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) published a review of legislative efforts in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan targeting drug-related “propaganda.” In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has urged lawmakers to adopt new anti-drug propaganda measures. In October, he demanded that they “Introduce amendments to the Russian Federation law to establish criminal liability for inducing others [to use], or for promoting … narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances or their analogs using the Internet.”

In response, state lawmakers introduced a measure that would punish drug-related “propaganda” with a fine of between RUB100,000-500,000 ($1,500-7,500); or a fine equal to the defendant’s income for three years; or a sentence of between 2-5 years in prison. For propaganda spread through the internet or digitally, fines and sentences increase dramatically.

EHRA explains why these proposed laws may be problematic: “The ‘rubber’ definition of the prohibited drug propaganda may be applied to any opioid substitution therapy advocacy: ‘It is prohibited to promote any benefits of using particular narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, their analogs or precursors, as well as new potentially harmful psychoactive substances, and plants used as a source of drugs, that suppress a person’s will and can become detrimental to a person’s mental or physical health.’”