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Dmitry Muratov: "That’s what it means to label journalists ‘foreign agents’ -- mistrust of one’s own people.”

The editor in chief of Russia’s Novaya gazeta, who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has denounced the Russian government’s so-called “foreign agents” law as “a filthy stigma that the authorities try to hang on all of their opponents.”

In an interview with Current Time on December 23, Dmitry Muratov said that 2021 had been a “real nightmare year” for independent media in Russia.

“The people are being robbed of their media,” Muratov said. “It is not just journalists who are being victimized. [The authorities] tell readers, ‘Go there, don’t go here. You aren’t allowed to read that!’ It is an enormous lack of trust in their own people. That’s what it means to label journalists ‘foreign agents’ -- mistrust of one’s own people.”

In recent months, the Russian authorities have designated dozens of organizations and individuals as “foreign agents,” subjecting them to restrictions and possible prosecution. RFE/RL’s Russian-language outlets and Current Time and several individual RFE/RL contributors have been designated as “foreign agents.”

Russian and international rights groups, as well as the U.S. government and the European Union, have accused the Russian government of using its “foreign agent” law to crack down on dissent and political opponents.

Who Is Russia's Dmitry Muratov, This Year's Nobel Peace Prize Winner?
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Muratov told Current Time, the Russian-language network operated by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that independent media in Russia are “a sort of parliament” for a country in which the real parliament does not represent the people.

“Our audience is large,” he said. “More than 30 million on social media. And no one represents them in parliament.”

Since winning the Nobel Peace Prize in October, Muratov said he has received “an unbelievable number” of requests for help from ordinary Russians.

“If people are turning for help to some guy who for some reason was given a Nobel Prize, then that means they cannot get help from their local authorities,” he said. “They cannot get justice in local courts. It means that they have no local deputies whom they trust.”

Six Novaya gazeta journalists and contributors -- Igor Domnikov (2000), Yury Shchekochikhin (2003), Anna Politkovskaya (2006), Anastasia Baburova (2009), Stanislav Markelov (2009), and Natalya Estimirova (2009) -- have been killed in attacks that the newspaper and human rights activists say were retribution for their journalism.

Muratov said his newspaper continues to receive threats “regularly,” particularly for its coverage of Chechnya and the alleged human rights abuses of the region’s longtime leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The Nobel Peace Prize, he said, is “a medal, not a bulletproof vest,” and conceded that he does not know whether the international honor will be a “shield” for his newspaper or not.

Muratov shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Maria Ressa, who co-founded Rappler, a news website critical of the Philippine government.

A European satellite operator has pulled the new German-language broadcasts of Russia's state-owned media company RT off the air after German regulators ruled that it did not have a valid license in the latest media spat between the two countries.

Eutelsat said on December 22 that it had suspended RT DE at the request of German regulators. The MABB media authority in Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg said in a statement sent to RFE/RL that the broadcaster did not apply for a broadcasting permit, nor was one issued in the country.

The move came after YouTube blocked the Russian broadcaster’s newly launched RT DE channel last week, less than three months after the U.S. video-sharing platform deleted two other German-language RT channels it accused of breaching its COVID-19 misinformation policies.

RT claims a license it holds in Serbia for satellite transmission gives it the right to broadcast in Germany under a Council of Europe agreement to which both countries are party.

"We consider the actions of the German regulator to be illegal and are convinced that this decision will be reviewed in court," RT said in a statement.

MABB considers the Serbian license insufficient because RT DE "is in German and aimed at the German market."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he could not rule out retaliation for the satellite block, which he described as “unacceptable."

Launched in 2005 as Russia Today, state-funded RT has continually expanded, with broadcasters and websites in languages including English, French, Spanish, and Arabic.

The channel has been banned in several countries, including the former Soviet republics of Lithuania and Latvia.

In the United states, it was required to register as a "foreign agent," and British authorities have threatened to revoke its broadcasting license.

The media dispute between Germany and Russia threatens to further strain their ties after a Berlin court last week sentenced a Russian to life in jail over a 2019 assassination on German soil that the court found had been ordered by Moscow.

The ruling prompted Berlin to expel two Russian diplomats, with Moscow responding with tit-for-tat expulsions.

Germany has also joined other Western countries in voicing alarm at a Russian troop buildup on the border with Ukraine.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and RFE/RL's Balkan Service

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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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