Russian police have detained several journalists who were protesting in Moscow on August 21 against a decision by authorities to label a top independent television channel as a “foreign agent.”
To circumvent Russian laws against unauthorized protest gatherings, the journalists held individual pickets outside the main headquarters of the country's top domestic security agency, the FSB, on Moscow's Lubyanka Square.
They were detained after holding up protest signs with messages such as “Journalism is not a crime” and “You are afraid of the truth."
The protests follow a decision by Russia's Justice Ministry on August 20 to add the Dozhd television channel (TV Rain) and the online investigative outlet Important Stories to its list of organizations deemed as “foreign agents."
Dozhd has denounced the designation as unfair and says it will appeal.
Dozhd operates online and has long been a platform where Kremlin critics who are unable to get on state TV have been able to express their views.
The channel has been sharply critical of Russian authorities’ crackdown on dissent. It has regularly carried live reports about opposition protests.
It also has extensively covered the poisoning and the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and the criminal cases authorities have launched against his allies.
The "foreign agent" designation was made under a law used by Russian authorities to target nongovernmental organizations and individuals who receive funding from abroad and are deemed to be engaging in "political" activity.
Rights groups and other critics say the law is a tool to crack down on media freedom and silence the critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies.
Russian authorities have raised pressure on the opposition and independent media ahead of parliamentary elections in September -- a vote seen as an important part of Putin's effort to consolidate his rule ahead of the country's 2024 presidential election.
The "foreign agent" label implies closer government scrutiny. It also has connotations that could undermine the credibility of media outlets and hurt their advertising revenue.