Russia's Justice Ministry has added the independent Latvia-based media outlet The Insider to its list of "foreign agents," along with five individual journalists including a freelance contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The ministry listed the new entries in an update of its registry on July 23, bringing the total number of entities and individuals with the controversial designation to 34.
The Insider has worked with the investigative organization Bellingcat on several projects, including the publication in December 2020 of a report implicating Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in the poisoning of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny a year ago.
The five individuals added to the list are Mikhail Rubin, Sofya Groisman, Ilya Rozhdestvensky, from the Russian investigative news outlet The Project, Yulia Apukhtina from the Open Media news outlet in Russia, and Aleksei Posternak, a contributor to Siberia.Realities, one of RFE/RL’s Russian-language services.
“In connection with the inclusion of The Insider on the list of the Justice Ministry, we inform you that the editorial office continues to work in the same composition and will maintain the editorial policy,” The Insider said in a statement on its website.
“We will continue to acquaint our readers with socially important information in full and without censorship. In accordance with Latvian laws and common sense,” it added.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly decried the move by the Justice Ministry saying Posternak was a Russian national "committed to providing objective news and information to his fellow citizens."
"These Kremlin attempts to slur Posternak and many other journalists like him are disgraceful and ultimately undermine the Russian people’s ability to get independent news and information," Fly said in a statement.
Russia’s controversial “foreign agent” legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” and to submit to audits.
In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL's Russian Service on the "foreign agents" list, along with six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services and Current Time. The Russian Service of VOA was also added to the list.
At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified again to allow the Russian government to include individuals, including foreign journalists, on the "foreign agents" list and to impose restrictions on them.
Earlier this year, Russian courts began imposing large fines against RFE/RL for failing to mark its articles with a government-prescribed label as required by rules adopted in October 2020. RFE/RL is appealing the fines.
RFE/RL has called the fines “a state-sponsored campaign of coercion and intimidation,” while the U.S. State Department has described them as “intolerable.”
Human Rights Watch has described the "foreign agents" legislation as “restrictive” and intended “to demonize independent groups.”
Last week The Project was placed on Russia's "undesirable" organizations list -- another prong in Russia's campaign to stifle opposition voices -- prompting the investigative news outlet to announce the "liquidation" of its U.S.-registered company.
The "undesirable" organization law, adopted in May 2015 and since updated, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources -- mainly from Europe and the United States.