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Yana Antonova holds a sign reading: "Freedom to political prisoners of Krasnodar region".

An activist in southern Russia says she has been charged with belonging to an "undesirable organization"’ as the state continues its crackdown against people associated with a rights group backed by a former oil tycoon.

Yana Antonova is one of several former members of Open Russia -- a civil rights organization connected to Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- that have come under investigation since January.

Investigators raided her apartment earlier this year. There was no immediate confirmation of the charges on the Investigative Committee's website.

In a Facebook post on May 21, Antonova denied committing any crimes, saying the law on "undesirable" organizations violates the Russian Constitution. She said her trial is scheduled to start soon.

The “undesirable organization” law, adopted in May 2015, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations who received funding from foreign sources.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office declared Open Russia "undesirable” in 2017. Those who support the group have come under “increasing pressure” from the authorities, Human Rights Watch said in March.

On January 21, law enforcement agents in Rostov-on-Don, Kazan, and Ulyanovsk raided the homes of nine activists, including Anastasia Shevchenko, affiliated with Open Russia. Shevchenko, a single mother of three, was placed under house arrest but allowed at the last minute to see her ill daughter shortly before she died.

Open Russia was launched by Khodorkovsky, who was Russia's richest man until he was arrested in 2003 on charges of tax evasion that he and his supporters called politically motivated. Khodorkovsky was released from prison in 2013 and resides abroad.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has joined international and Russian media-freedom watchdogs in deploring the shake-up at Russia's prominent newspaper Kommersant, calling it "the latest episode in the gutting" of the country's independent media.

"This week brought the bombshell announcement that Ivan Safronov and Maksim Ivanov, two veteran reporters for Kommersant, were pressured into resigning, spurring the paper's entire politics desk to quit in protest," Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said on May 22.

Kommersant has been "one of the country's most respected news outlets" and "one of the last remaining mainstream newspapers still clinging to editorial independence while continuing to produce high-quality investigative reporting," Denber said in a statement.

"Russia needs more strong and independent newspapers like Kommersant. Let's hope it can hold out," she added.

Ivanov, a deputy chief editor of the business daily's political unit, and special correspondent Safronov were fired earlier this month over an article about the possible demotion of Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko, a staunch Kremlin ally.

Eleven journalists at Kommersant tendered their resignations in solidarity, and more than 180 others issued a joint letter saying that the newspaper' shareholders were "destroying one of Russia's best media outlets" for "short-term political gains."

The Russian Journalists and Media Workers Union condemned what it called a "brutal interference by shareholders in editorial policy."

In Paris, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said, "This editorial meddling in the Kommersant newsroom by the owner is a terrible blow to what is left of journalistic independence in Russia."

Kommersant's deputy editor in chief, Renata Yambayeva, said that the decision to fire Ivanov and Safronov was made by the newspaper's owner, Kremlin-friendly oligarch Alisher Usmanov. A spokesperson for the billionaire denies that.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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