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The main headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague

MOSCOW -- Russia's telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor has drawn up its first eight administrative protocols -- all against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty -- for violating the country's controversial foreign agents law.

Roskomnadzor said in a statement on its website on January 12 that the offenses are "for noncompliance by the media performing the functions of a foreign agent with the requirements of the law on labeling information disseminated by them."

The protocols target four of RFE/RL's Russian-language projects -- its main service for Russia, Radio Liberty; the Current Time TV and digital network; and Siberia.Reality and Idel.Reality, two regional sites delivering local news and information to audiences in Siberia and the Volga-Urals.

"The drawn-up protocols will be sent to the magistrate's court within three working days to make decisions on the imposition of administrative fines," Roskomnadzor said.

RFE/RL President Ted Lipien called the move "a dramatic escalation" and reaffirmed the broadcaster's determination to fulfill its mission toward its audiences in Russia and elsewhere.

"Internet regulator Roskomnadzor’s action is a dramatic escalation by the Russian government in its efforts to keep the Russian people from accessing the uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate offered by Radio Svoboda (Liberty) and our other Russia-focused reporting services," Lipien said.

"RFE/RL will not abandon our audiences or our mission, in Russia or anywhere else in our coverage area," he said.

The "foreign agent" law, originally passed in 2012, requires designated organizations to report their activities and face financial audits. Amendments to the law in December 2020 oblige the media to note the designation whenever they mention these individuals or groups.

The new law also says that individuals, including foreign journalists, involved in Russia's political developments or collecting materials and data related to Russia's defense or national-security issues must be included on the list of foreign agents.

Critics say the law has been arbitrarily applied to target Russian civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and political activists, including outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Amnesty International recently slammed the legislation, saying it would "drastically limit and damage the work not only of civil society organizations that receive funds from outside Russia but many other groups as well."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as a whole was listed in the original registry in December 2017, along with several of RFE/RL's regional news sites: the Crimea Desk of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service; the Siberia Desk of RFE/RL's Russian Service; Kavkaz Realii of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service; Idel.Realii of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service; and Factograph, a former special project by RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America, was also named in the original list, as was Voice of America.

In November 2019, the list was expanded to include Sever.Realii. In February 2020, the Russian Justice Ministry added RFE/RL's corporate entity in Russia.

Moscow began adding individuals to the list in December 2020, including three journalists who contribute to RFE/RL: Lyudmila Savitskaya and Sergei Markelov, freelance correspondents for the North Desk (Sever.Realii) of RFE/RL's Russian Service; and Denis Kamalyagin, editor in chief of the online news site Pskov Province and a contributor to RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Russian officials have said that amending the "foreign agents law" to include mass media in 2017 was a "symmetrical response" to the U.S. requirement that Russia's state-funded channel RT register under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

U.S. officials have said the action is not symmetrical, arguing that the U.S. and Russian laws differ and that Russia uses its "foreign agent" legislation to silence dissent and discourage the free exchange of ideas.

Riza Omerov (left), his father, Enver Omerov, and Ayder Dzhepparov (in the background) appear in court in Rostov-on-Don on January 12.

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- Another group of Crimean Tatars has been sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges of being members of a banned Islamic group and plotting to seize power in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea that Moscow illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The Southern Military Regional Court in the city of Rostov-on-Don on January 12 sentenced Enver Omerov to 18 years, Ayder Dzhepparov to 17 years, and Riza Omerov to 13 years in prison.

The three men, who were arrested in June 2019, were found guilty of plotting to forcibly seize power in Crimea as members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group that is banned in Russia, but is legal in Ukraine.

Enver Omerov was also found guilty of organizing the activities of a terrorist group.

Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova condemned what she called the "aggressor country's illegal decision about our citizens."

"[Russia] with its shameful activities continues to openly violate international agreements and the norms of international law. I would like to remind the international community that especially today, the Day of the Ukrainian Political Prisoner, all Ukrainian citizens kept in the Kremlin's custody need your support and the consolidation of efforts for their earliest release," Denisova said in a statement posted on Telegram.

In two separate cases in the second half of last year, the same court sentenced other Crimean Tatars to lengthy prison terms on similar charges, which they, their supporters, and Ukrainian authorities rejected as politically motivated.

Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they call a persistent campaign of oppression targeting Crimean Tatars and other citizens who oppose Moscow's annexation.

Russia occupied and seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014. The majority of Crimean Tatars opposed the Russian takeover of their historic homeland.

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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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