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Russia Designates More RFE/RL Journalists As 'Foreign Agents'

Journalists work inRFE/RL's Moscow bureau.
Journalists work inRFE/RL's Moscow bureau.

Russia's Justice Ministry has added more reporters, including five RFE/RL journalists, to the register of "foreign media agents."

Russia's "foreign agent" legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires NGOs 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.

Later modifications of the law targeted allegedly foreign-funded media, including RFE/RL's Russian Service, six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time. Several RFE/RL correspondents have also been added to the list.

In the latest such step, authorities added to the list the following journalists: Tatyana Voltskaya, Yekaterina Klepikovskaya, and Yelena Solovyova, who collaborate with RFE/RL's Russian Service and its North.Realities desk; Yelizaveta Surnacheva, a Russian journalist who works for Current Time in Kyiv; and Current Time freelance TV journalist Roman Perl.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly condemned the move as another attack on the free media in Russia and reaffirmed the media outlet's commitment to its Russian audiences.

"Today's targeting by the Kremlin of five Russian nationals who work for RFE/RL is just the latest attempt to silence independent media in Russia. We will continue to fight this absurd use of the 'foreign agent' law to control the information that the Russian people can access and engage with," Fly said.

"Our commitment to serving our audiences in Russia will not waver."

RFE/RL said in a statement that "due to its refusal to submit to the unjust and invasive content labeling provisions of the ‘foreign agent’ law, RFE/RL now faces nearly $4.4 million in fines, and the prospect of additional fines in the near future as well as criminal liability for the officers of its own Russia-based legal entity."

RFE/RL added that it has filed suit with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over the law and the fines.

"The ECHR has accepted the case on a priority basis, and has formally communicated its acceptance to the government of Russia. The Russian government is due to submit its observations on the admissibility and merits of the application by November 10," it added.

Also added to the list on October 8 were journalist Daniil Sotnikov, from independent news channel TV Dozhd and BBC Russian service correspondent Andrei Zakharov. Galina Arapova, director of the Media Rights Protection Center, and environmental activist Yevgeny Simonov were also included.

The register also added the Bellingcat investigation project, MEMO, the publisher of the Caucasian Knot website, and the U.S. firm Mason GES Anonymous Foundation, which owns the M.News online publication.

Some 85 people and organizations have so far been included on the "foreign agents" register, 68 of them since the beginning of the year.

On September 1, editors in chief and publishers of more than 20 independent Russian publications demanded in an open letter that the current list of media "foreign agents" be canceled, as well as 12 amendments to the current legislation on "foreign agents" be introduced.

The open letter was addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov, and Justice Minister Konstantin Chuichenko. The Kremlin has promised to consider the appeal of journalists to amend the law on "foreign agents."