Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russian Artist's Lawsuit Against 'Foreign Agent' Label Denied

Artist and activist Darya Apakhonchich

A St. Petersburg court has upheld the legality of the Russian Justice Ministry's decision to designate feminist performance artist and activist Darya Apakhonchich a "foreign agent."

The Leninsky District Court wrote in a press statement on May 13 that Apakhonchich's lawsuit had failed to satisfy requirements for a case to be heard.

Apakhonchich was among the first individuals in Russia to be included on the Russian government's list of "media organizations fulfilling the functions of foreign agents."

First passed in 2012, Russia's "foreign agent" legislation initially targeted nongovernmental organizations accused of having received foreign funding. But it has undergone numerous modifications to include foreign media organizations as well as individuals.

Human Rights Watch has criticized the legislation -- which subjects those blacklisted to restrictions, fines, and bans -- as "restrictive" and intended "to demonize independent groups."

Apakhonchich, who is not engaged in journalism but had posted articles from "foreign agent" media including RFE/RL on social media, had appealed the designation on the basis that she had "never received money or any property from foreign sources for the creation or dissemination of statements or materials that were distributed by foreign media listed under the foreign agents law."

Apakhonchich has maintained that the label imposed upon her was politically motivated and related to her "feminist activities." Her complaint, filed on March 1, included 12 pages of alleged violations of her rights to expression and privacy.

Apakhonchich's lawyer, Aleksandr Peredruk, told MBH Media that the Justice Ministry had failed to prove that his client had received money from foreign entities or that the social-media pages in question belonged to her.

Peredruk, who works with the legal-defense organization Agora, also said that the Justice Ministry had filed to identify a link between the reception of foreign funding and the dissemination of information. Peredruk said that without such a connection "this law will be widely interpreted."

Apakhonchich was added to the "foreign agent" list along with four others on December 28, 2020. Three of the individuals -- Lyudmila Savitskaya, Sergei Markelov, and Denis Kamalyagin -- are contributors to RFE/RL's Russian Service.

On May 5, the City Court in the western city of Pskov ruled that Savitskaya's inclusion on the list was lawful.

“Lyudmila is not a 'foreign agent' -- she, and RFE/RL journalists Denis Kamalyagin and Sergei Markelov, are Russian nationals providing objective news and information to their fellow citizens," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement late on May 6.

"We call on the Russian government to stop targeting journalists and blocking the Russian people's access to information."

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

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.”