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A woman holds a placard reading, "You can't shut up everyone!" as journalists and supporters take part in a protest against the "foreign agent" law in central Moscow on September 4.

More than 150 media and nongovernmental organizations in Russia have launched a petition urging the authorities to cancel the controversial “foreign agent” law, which is widely seen as a tool used by the Kremlin to stifle civil society and independent media.

The Russian law, first passed in 2012 and amended several times since, requires designated media organizations to label all of their content with an intrusive disclaimer.

The petition says that, since January, the Justice Ministry has added six media outlets, 20 journalists, and seven NGOs to the registry of "foreign agents." Between 2013 and 2020, a total of 221 groups and individuals were put on the list.

As of September 14. almost 8,000 people had signed the petition, which is located on the Change.org website.

"We consider the ongoing situation as an action of the state's pressure on media and public organizations. The law itself and the way it is being used aim to weaken civil society institutions," the statement says. "The law on foreign agents must be fully annulled."

The designation carries ominous Soviet-era connotations and comes with onerous labeling requirements that have threatened the financing of some media outlets.

Some media have complied, even amid fears that the labels would scare off advertisers. At least one designated Russian news outlet has closed, while Meduza has resorted to crowdfunding to continue operating.

The designation has also gained in prominence as Russians prepare to head to the polls for elections on September 17-19.

Some critics say that with support for the Kremlin-backed United Russia party slumping badly, officials are using the law to muzzle the voices of opposition candidates by curbing independent media outlets.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and several of its Russian-language news sites, including its flagship Russian-language television channel, Current Time, are on the registry.

RFE/RL has not labeled its content, resulting in the Justice Ministry imposing tens of millions of dollars in fines. RFE/RL has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and has also moved to shift some of its employees and operations out of Moscow to Kyiv and elsewhere.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has said that Russia is attempting to fine RFE/RL's Moscow bureau out of existence with the penalties.

Salekh Magamadov (right) and his brother Ismail Isayev are seen during a court hearing in Grozny.

MOSCOW -- The Moscow-based human rights center Memorial has recognized two Chechen brothers held in Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya as political prisoners.

Memorial said on September 14 that Ismail Isayev and Salekh Magamadov have been persecuted for their criticism of the authorities in Chechnya and for being homosexual.

The brothers have been held in a detention center in the Chechen capital, Grozny, since February on a charge of supporting illegal armed groups by providing them with food.

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"The case against Isayev and Magamadov is marred with blatant violations -- they were not allowed to see their lawyers, legal deadlines in the case have been ignored, pressure has been imposed on the brothers and their relatives, and the two were tortured," the statement says, adding that the case against Isayev and Magamadov is politically motivated and unlawful.

Isayev and Magamadov were initially detained last year over their opposition Telegram channel, through which they criticized Chechen authorities.

After their arrest, a video showing them apologizing for their criticism of the authorities appeared on the Internet. In the video, the young men appeared to have been beaten, according to Memorial.

In July 2020, the Russian LGBT Network helped the two men move to the city of Nizhny Novgorod, from which they planned to leave Russia for an unspecified foreign country.

However, they were abducted and brought to Chechnya in February, where they were charged with supporting terrorists.

Isayev and Magamadov have complained that they were beaten and tortured while in custody.

Chechen authorities have said the two men lied about their sexual orientation to make it easier for them to get asylum abroad, which they and human rights organizations reject.

The volatile region's government and its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya since 2007, are frequently accused by Russian and international activists of overseeing grave human rights abuses that include abductions, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

Kremlin critics say Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned a blind eye to the alleged abuses and violations of the country's constitution by Kadyrov because he relies on the former rebel commander to control separatist sentiment and violence in Chechnya, the site of two devastating post-Soviet wars and an Islamist insurgency that spread to other mostly Muslim regions in the North Caucasus.

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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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