28 July 2021
28 July 2021
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) is highly concerned about the raid this morning on the home of investigative journalist Roman Dobrokhotov. We call on the Russian authorities to immediately halt its intensifying crackdown on independent media in the run-up to the legislative elections in September.
Dobrokhotov is the editor-in-chief of The Insider, an online outlet registered in Latvia that has published investigations into corruption and abuses by Russian officials, alleged Russian covert actions in Ukraine and the assassination attempt on opposition leader Alexei Navalny. According to The Insider, the raid this morning may be related to a slander case launched in April, following a complaint by a Dutch journalist whom The Insider had accused of working with Russian intelligence services.
On 23 July, the Russian Ministry of Justice declared The Insider a “foreign agent media”. The government uses this label to indicate that they are allegedly engaged in political activity. With the labelling come pejorative Soviet-era connotations that serve to demonise independent media and extra government scrutiny. Targeted outlets are required to include a disclaimer that their publications are distributed by an organisation “fulfilling the function of a foreign agent”, and to start broadcasts with a similar message. Individual journalists have said they need to attach a disclaimer to social media posts and regularly file itemised reports on their finances to the justice ministry. In comments to the media, Dobrokhotov had said that The Insider would continue to operate as usual under Lavian law, and would not comply with the requirements of the Russian foreign agent law.
Russia introduced the “foreign agent” legislation in 2012. Initially, it was used mainly to suppress human rights work and those who promote civic participation, for example, by sharing information on voting rights. In 2017, the law was amended to include “foreign agent media”. Failure to comply with the obligations under the law results in fines and, potentially, closure of outlets and criminal charges against their staff. For instance, since January of this year, media regulator Rozkomnadzor has issued hundreds of notices of violations against US-funded Radio Liberty, with fines totalling almost two million euros. In April, the broadcaster appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, requesting it to indicate interim measures that would block the Russian authorities from enforcing the fines.
While the Russian authorities’ list of “foreign agent media” had originally mainly included Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and its various regional agencies, this year the crackdown was expanded to include new digital outlets founded by refugees from traditional Russian media that have increasingly been brought under the Kremlin’s control. New targets include Meduza, a leading Russian-language news website based in Latvia; PASMI, Russia’s first media outlet dedicated exclusively to fighting corruption; and, VTimes, an independent online business newspaper. In June, VTimes closed down as a consequence, citing concerns among advertisers and fears of possible legal troubles for their staff.
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