The editor in chief of Russia’s Novaya gazeta, who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has denounced the Russian government’s so-called “foreign agents” law as “a filthy stigma that the authorities try to hang on all of their opponents.”
In an interview with Current Time on December 23, Dmitry Muratov said that 2021 had been a “real nightmare year” for independent media in Russia.
“The people are being robbed of their media,” Muratov said. “It is not just journalists who are being victimized. [The authorities] tell readers, ‘Go there, don’t go here. You aren’t allowed to read that!’ It is an enormous lack of trust in their own people. That’s what it means to label journalists ‘foreign agents’ -- mistrust of one’s own people.”
In recent months, the Russian authorities have designated dozens of organizations and individuals as “foreign agents,” subjecting them to restrictions and possible prosecution. RFE/RL’s Russian-language outlets and Current Time and several individual RFE/RL contributors have been designated as “foreign agents.”
Russian and international rights groups, as well as the U.S. government and the European Union, have accused the Russian government of using its “foreign agent” law to crack down on dissent and political opponents.
Muratov told Current Time, the Russian-language network operated by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that independent media in Russia are “a sort of parliament” for a country in which the real parliament does not represent the people.
“Our audience is large,” he said. “More than 30 million on social media. And no one represents them in parliament.”
Since winning the Nobel Peace Prize in October, Muratov said he has received “an unbelievable number” of requests for help from ordinary Russians.
“If people are turning for help to some guy who for some reason was given a Nobel Prize, then that means they cannot get help from their local authorities,” he said. “They cannot get justice in local courts. It means that they have no local deputies whom they trust.”
Six Novaya gazeta journalists and contributors -- Igor Domnikov (2000), Yury Shchekochikhin (2003), Anna Politkovskaya (2006), Anastasia Baburova (2009), Stanislav Markelov (2009), and Natalya Estimirova (2009) -- have been killed in attacks that the newspaper and human rights activists say were retribution for their journalism.
Muratov said his newspaper continues to receive threats “regularly,” particularly for its coverage of Chechnya and the alleged human rights abuses of the region’s longtime leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
The Nobel Peace Prize, he said, is “a medal, not a bulletproof vest,” and conceded that he does not know whether the international honor will be a “shield” for his newspaper or not.
Muratov shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Maria Ressa, who co-founded Rappler, a news website critical of the Philippine government.