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OSCE Slams Moscow For Heavy Fine Against Independent News Website

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir (file photo)
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir (file photo)

The media-freedom representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has condemned an "exceptionally high" fine imposed on October 26 by a Moscow court against the independent The New Times online news outlet.

In an October 27 statement, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir called on the Russian authorities to protect freedom of the media and pluralism of opinion.

The previous day, Moscow's Tverskoi District Court imposed fines of 22,250,000 rubles ($339,000) against The New Times and 30,000 rubles ($457) against the website's editor, Yevgenia Albats, for allegedly failing to comply with financial reporting obligations under Russia's controversial "foreign agents" law.

"The exceptionally high fine imposed on The New Times is an unprecedented decision, which is detrimental to freedom of the media in the Russian Federation," Desir was quoted as saying. He expressed hope that the decision would be overturned on appeal and called on Moscow to revise the foreign agents law, 2015 legislation aimed at restricting "organizations performing the function of foreign agents."

Under the law, Russian organizations labeled as foreign agents must comply with lengthy and onerous financial-reporting requirements.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Albats said prosecutors had been looking into The New Times for some time now, but that the court made its decision in a matter of hours. She said she believed the hasty decision was intended to punish her for an interview she conducted on the Ekho Moskvy radio station earlier in the week with opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

Albats said she would appeal the verdict.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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