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Russian 'Foreign Agent' Turns Tables On Officials With Transfer Of Funds

Denis Kamalyagin (file photo)
Denis Kamalyagin (file photo)

A Russian journalist labeled as a "foreign agent" has turned the tables on several local lawmakers in the northwestern region of Pskov, sending them money to make them associates.

Denis Kamalyagin, the chief editor of the Pskovskaya gubernia newspaper who was labeled by a court as a "foreign agent" in December, said on May 5 he transferred unspecified amounts of money via his mobile phone to the region's governor, the mayor of the regional capital, Pskov, and a lawmaker representing the region in the Russian parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma.

Kamalyagin told Dozhd TV and the media outlet Meduza that he transferred the money in January and informed the Justice Ministry about it in a report that he must provide regularly as "a foreign agent."

He said his goal was to prove that the law on "foreign agents" must be reconsidered.

"It is clear that according to current law, anyone who has a personal website and receives money from abroad can be designated a 'foreign agent,'" Kamalyagin said, pointing out that the law had been applied selectively so far.

"In theory this means that during the election [campaign in September], these comrades would have to allocate 15 percent of their [campaign] billboards to show that they are associated with foreign agents," Kamalyagin said.

Only after he publicly announced the stunt did the three officials transfer the money back.

Russia's so-called "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. Later modifications targeted foreign-funded media.

In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL's Russian Service on the list, along with six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time, a network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified to allow the Russian government to include individuals, including foreign journalists, on its "foreign agents" list and to impose restrictions on them.

The Russian state media monitor Roskomnadzor last year adopted rules requiring listed media to mark all written materials with a lengthy notice in large text, all radio materials with an audio statement, and all video materials with a 15-second text declaration.

The agency has submitted hundreds of complaints against RFE/RL's projects to the courts, with the total fines levied at around $1 million. RFE/RL has appealed the moves.

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 agent legislation as "restrictive" and intended "to demonize independent groups."