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Single Picketers In Siberia Protest Latest Crackdown On Journalists

A single picketer demonstrates in support of journalists who have been deemed to be foreign agents by Russian authorities, in Novosibirsk, on July 16.

NOVOSIBIRSK, Russia -- Single-person protests have been held in Siberia's largest city, Novosibirsk, to express support for journalists who have been added to the controversial registry of foreign agents.

On July 15, Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office banned investigative news outlet The Project after declaring it an "undesirable" organization and added eight journalists, including The Project's chief editor Roman Badanin and four of his colleagues, as well as an RFE/RL freelance correspondent in Moscow, Yelizaveta Mayetnaya, the chief editor of Open Media news outlet Yulia Yarosh and her deputy, Maksim Glikin, to the list of foreign agents.

Individual protesters in various parts of Novosibirsk, Russia's third-most populous city, rallied on July 16 holding small posters saying "Journalists are NOT enemies! The media must be free," "Journalists are being deprived of their Profession," "The Project investigates authorities, the authors are labeled as foreign agents," etc. Single-person protests do not require preliminary approval from the authorities.

The July 15 raids were seen as part of a wider crackdown ahead of parliamentary elections in September on media that authorities view as hostile and foreign-backed. In raiding The Project, authorities have targeted a media outlet that has published a series of well-researched, unflattering, and sometimes embarrassing investigations into Russia's ruling elite.

Last month, police in Moscow carried out searches at the homes of Badanin and other colleagues from The Project hours after it published a report questioning how Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev and his relatives acquired their wealth.

The inclusion of Yelizaveta Mayetnaya, a Moscow-based freelancer for RFE/RL's Russian Service, on the foreign agents list was condemned by RFE/RL President Jamie Fly.

"RFE/RL deplores the Russian government’s decision to add our correspondent Yelizaveta Mayetnaya to its list of 'foreign agents.' The journalists who work for RFE/RL in Russia are proud Russians, seeking to use their skills to provide objective news and information to their fellow citizens. These escalating Kremlin attacks on independent voices only serve to deprive the Russian people of access to information at a critical moment in Russia's history," Fly said in a statement.

Russia’s controversial "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.

The "undesirable" organization law, adopted in May 2015 and since updated, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources -- mainly from Europe and the United States.

In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL's Russian Service on the "foreign agents" list, along with six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services and Current Time. The Russian Service of VOA was also added to the list.

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