Russian Watchdog Takes First Step Toward Punishing RFE/RL Under ‘Foreign Agents’ Law

Russia’s telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor has drawn up its first eight administrative protocols — all against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — for violating the country’s controversial foreign agents law.Roskomnadzor said in a statement on its website on January 12 that the offenses are “for noncompliance by the media performing the functions of a foreign agent with the requirements of the law on labeling information disseminated by them.”The protocols involve RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Current Time, Sibir.Realii, and Idel.Realii.”The drawn-up protocols will be sent to the magistrate’s court within three working days to make decisions on the imposition of administrative fines,” Roskomnadzor said.The “foreign agent” law, originally passed in 2012, requires designated organizations to report their activities and face financial audits. Amendments to the law in December 2020 oblige the media to note the designation whenever they mention these individuals or groups.The new law also says that individuals, including foreign journalists, involved in Russia’s political developments or collecting materials and data related to Russia’s defense or national-security issues must be included on the list of foreign agents.Critics say the law has been arbitrarily applied to target Russian civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and political activists, including outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.Amnesty International recently slammed the legislation, saying it would “drastically limit and damage the work not only of civil society organizations that receive funds from outside Russia but many other groups as well.”FILE – The blacklist of foreign agents, seen here in a 2019 screenshot from the Russian Justice Ministry’s website, shows Voice of America (1), Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe (7) and Current Time (5) among others.Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as a whole was listed in the original registry in December 2017, along with several of RFE/RL’s regional news sites: the Crimea Desk of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service; the Siberia Desk of RFE/RL’s Russian Service; Kavkaz Realii of RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service; Idel.Realii of RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service; and Factograph, a former special project by RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America, was also named in the original list, as was Voice of America.
In November 2019, the list was expanded to include Sever.Realii. In February 2020, the Russian Justice Ministry added RFE/RL’s corporate entity in Russia.Moscow began adding individuals to the list in December 2020, including three journalists who contribute to RFE/RL: Lyudmila Savitskaya and Sergei Markelov, freelance correspondents for the North Desk (Sever.Realii) of RFE/RL’s Russian Service; and Denis Kamalyagin, editor in chief of the online news site Pskov Province and a contributor to RFE/RL’s Russian Service.”The Justice Ministry is stating unambiguously that reporting the facts is a crime, and that it will stop at nothing to silence the voices that seek to inform, protect, and engage their compatriots, the people of Russia,” Daisy Sindelar, RFE/RL vice president and editor in chief, said after the list was expanded last month.Russian officials have said that amending the “foreign agents law” to include mass media in 2017 was a “symmetrical response” to the U.S. requirement that Russia’s state-funded channel RT register under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).U.S. officials have said the action is not symmetrical, arguing that the U.S. and Russian laws differ and that Russia uses its “foreign agent” legislation to silence dissent and discourage the free exchange of ideas. 

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