ECPMF condemns Putin's censorship


15 October 2021

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The Russian government designated renowned media lawyer and member of the ECPMF Executive Board Galina Arapova as a “foreign agent” – “An obvious attempt to silence a prominent and courageous defender of media freedom,” says ECPMF chairperson Yannis Kotsifos.


On Friday 8 October, the Russian government designated renowned media lawyer Galina Arapova as a “foreign agent” along with a dozen journalists. Arapova is the first lawyer on the list, which hitherto targeted independent media outlets, civil society organisations and since July 2021, investigative journalists. The Mass Media Defence Centre, which Arapova heads, was labeled a “foreign agent” in 2015. The categorisation stigmatises organisations, obliges them to disclose all financial transactions and makes disclaimers about this status mandatory for public statements.

“The Russian policy to declare critical media and NGOs a ‘foreign agent’ is well known. In fact, it is a way for Putin to censor the public debate, because the label ‘foreign agent’ makes it very difficult for organisations to keep on working”, says ECPMF’s chair Yannis Kotsifos. “In Galina’s case it is an obvious attempt to silence a prominent and courageous defender of media freedom. We stand in solidarity with her – and will support her legal fight against the designation by any means.”

The Mass Media Defence Centre in Voronezh, headed by Arapova, was founded in 1996. It provides legal expertise for media outlets and journalists threatened by abusive prosecution. Arapova, 49, won multiple awards for her work, among them the Anna Politkovskaya prize and the Moscow Helsinki Group award for human rights. She is the only Russian lawyer to have received an International Bar Association award for outstanding legal work in defending human rights. Arapova was vice-chair of Article 19’s International Board for the last nine years and is a member of ECPMF’s Executive Board. “Galina Arapova is respected for her competence throughout Europe. We’re privileged to work with her to promote media freedom”, says Kotsifos.

Arapova is a practicing media lawyer and litigates before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) defending Russian media outlets and journalists. The status as foreign agent puts pressure on her defence work. In a post on her private Facebook-account, Arapova announced not to accept the designation. Instead, she plans to take legal action, if necessary up to the ECtHR. Ironically, the Mass Media Defence Centre has been heavily occupied with “foreign agent” cases in recent months. Arapova says there has been an “avalanche” of litigations since the summer. The labeling as “foreign agent” somewhat unhitched the relentless series of defamation indictments that was previously the prevailing instrument to suppress critics.

In its 2021 report Freedom House declared Russia as “not free”, in the Reporters Without Borders Index the nation ranks 150 of 180.

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