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Russia: Kremlin tightens stranglehold on foreign media with more repressive legislation

The Russian authorities will tighten their stranglehold on press freedom in the country today by introducing a bill that designates foreign-funded news organizations as “foreign agents” and imposes onerous obligations to declare full details of their funding, finances and staffing, said Amnesty International.

The move is likely to effect the Russian services of major international media outlets such as the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.  

All political parties represented in the State Duma, the Russian Parliament’s lower chamber, have expressed their support of the bill and are expected to pass it unanimously as early as Wednesday.

“This legislation strikes a serious blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom in Russia. Over the last couple of years, the Kremlin has been tirelessly building a media echo chamber that shuts out critical voices, both inside Russia and from abroad,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International. 

This legislation strikes a serious blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom in Russia
Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International

“Independent media outlets and journalists face reprisals and risk attacks on an almost daily basis. Many have been forced out of the mainstream Russian media space. This latest legislation takes obstacles for media working in Russia to a whole new level.”

The new bill expands the scope of the 2012 so-called foreign agents law which primarily targeted NGOs, forcing several of the most reputable to close and many more to curtail their work. Once the amendments are passed, the “foreign agents law” will also apply to all foreign media working in Russia, as well as Russian-language news operating from abroad.

These media will have to declare full details of their funding, finances and staffing while all published materials, including on their websites and social media, must be marked as coming from a “foreign agent”.

The bill will also allow the General Prosecutor’s Office to arbitrarily block access to websites of ambiguously defined ‘undesirable organizations’.

“The Russian authorities have previously used the ‘foreign agents law’ to shackle and stigmatize dozens of the country’s most highly regarded NGOs,” said Denis Krivosheev.

The Russian authorities have previously used the ‘foreign agents law’ to shackle and stigmatize dozens of the country’s most highly regarded NGOs
Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International

“Sadly, this is now likely to become the fate of the very few news outlets in Russia who have fought hard to preserve their independence by working from abroad.”

Background

The Russian State Duma explained the move as retaliation for a demand by the US Department of Justice that the Russian government-funded TV station RT register with US authorities as a “foreign agent”. Initially, the proponents of Russia’s measure intended it only for US-based media in Russia, but it was later expanded to cover all media outlets in Russia receiving foreign funding thereby vastly increasing its scope.