An amendment to an existing Russian law on media outlets deemed "foreign agents" that critics say is used to muzzle dissent ratchets up pressure on hundreds of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondents in Russia who provide one of the few remaining alternatives to Kremlin-controlled news, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has said.
The amended law, signed by President Vladimir Putin on December 2, gives Russian authorities the power to label reporters who work for officially listed "foreign agent" organizations and receive financial or other material support from them as foreign agents themselves.
"RFE/RL works with hundreds of Russian correspondents across the country who are a lifeline for news-deprived local communities and who tackle important issues ignored by state media, but who, according to this law, should now, absurdly, be considered 'foreign agents,'" Fly said on December 4.
"These are exceptional and dedicated journalists. It is an outrage that this law targets their work and jeopardizes their security in an attempt to silence them and deprive Russian citizens of their right to seek reliable information."
Should anything a foreign media outlet publish violate Russian regulations, the new norms allow the authorities to block the websites of foreign agents or legal entities established by them, according to Russian media.
Nine RFE/RL reporting platforms have been designated a "foreign agent" as a result of a law from 2017 that brings media organizations under the purview of the original law that requires NGOs receiving foreign funding to register as "foreign agents" with Russia's Justice Ministry.
Russia passed the original foreign-agent law in 2012 following the biggest wave of anti-government protests since Vladimir Putin came to power. Putin blamed Western influence and money for those protests.
Russian officials have said the law is a "symmetrical response" after Russia's state-funded channel RT -- which U.S. authorities accuse of spreading propaganda -- was required to register its U.S. operating unit under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Critics of the law say it stigmatizes organizations with the designation and would do the same to journalists if they are labeled as foreign agents.
RFE/RL operates a large bureau in Moscow, has hundreds of contributors across Russia, and has recently launched dedicated reporting units to provide up-close coverage of northern Russia (Sever.Realii) and Siberia (Sibir.Realii).
Its North Caucasus and Tatar-Bashkir-language services have similarly sought to make their reporting more accessible to regional audiences by putting up websites -- Kavkaz.Realii and Idel.Realii -- in Russian.
The digital and TV network Current Time relies on a reporting network that covers the entire space of the former Soviet Union to reach Russian speakers within and beyond Russia's borders.