A wave of unfair, excessive and suffocating fines levied on independent Russian media, NGOs and human rights defenders represent a new assault on human rights in Russia, Amnesty International said today.
“Once again the Russian authorities are targeting independent organizations and individuals – but this time their weapon is suffocating fines. Using a host of draconian laws, the authorities are levying one extortionate fine after another in what appears to be a coordinated attack to drive critical organizations out of existence altogether,” said Natalia Zviagina, Director of Amnesty International’s Office in Moscow.
Using a host of draconian laws, the Russian authorities are levying one extortionate fine after another in what appears to be a coordinated attackNatalia Zviagina, Director of Amnesty International's Office in Moscow
The latest victim of this targeted attack is The New Times magazine, one of the leading critical media outlets in Russia. On 26 October, The New Times was fined 22,250,000 rubles (US$ 348,000) for “failure by an editor, a broadcaster or a publisher of a medium to provide information on receiving funds”. It’s the biggest fine so far imposed on media in Russia.
The magazine was forced to discontinue its print edition in 2017 after its reputation for being disloyal to the regime meant it was abandoned by advertisers. Now faced with this heavy fine, The New Times is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Also on 26 October, the Andrey Rylkov Foundation – a prominent Russian group advocating for reforming drug policies – was fined 800,000 rubles (US$ 12,500) for distributing “propaganda of narcotic substances”. The article in question appeared in a bulletin that the foundation publishes on accessing health services for people who use drugs.
“The same financial whip the authorities are using against their critics in the media, is simultaneously being used against those expressing dissident opinions on a range of policy issues,” said Natalia Zviagina.
The same financial whip the authorities are using against their critics in the media, is simultaneously being used against those expressing dissident opinions on a range of policy issuesNatalia Zviagina, Director of Amnesty Internalional's Office in Moscow
Only a few days earlier, a court imposed an unusually heavy fine of 1,000,000 rubles (US$ 15,600) on Transparency International Russia after it lost a defamation case launched by a close associate of Vladimir Putin.
At the same time, Russian courts have largely failed to protect human rights defenders from attacks on their reputation by state-controlled mainstream media.
Earlier in this month, Sergei Zykov, a human rights defender from Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, and Aleksandr Kunilovsky, an opposition activist from Tyumen, in northern Siberia, were fined 300,000 rubles (US$ 4,700) and 290,000 rubles (US$ 4,500), respectively, for violations of Russia’s unduly restrictive rules governing public assemblies.
“We call on the Russian authorities to immediately halt this vicious assault on civil society organizations and stop using the repressive legislation to impose extortionate penalties,” said Natalia Zviagina.
We call on the Russian authorities to immediately halt this vicious assault on civil society organizations and stop using the repressive legislation to impose extortionate penaltiesNatalia Zviagina, Director of Amnesty Internalional's Office in Moscow
The New Times, Andrey Rylkov Foundation and Transparency International Russia have faced increased pressure from the Russian authorities, mainly due to the fact that all three organizations are recipients of foreign funding.
Article 13.15.1 of the Administrative Offences Code used against The New Times was introduced in 2015 as part of a campaign against independent media who have been forced to rely on foreign funding due to the lack of sufficient national resources accessible to them.
The Andrey Rylkov Foundation was listed as a “foreign agent” by the Ministry of Justice in 2016. Since then, the group has faced a drastic reduction in its budget due to its inability to generate sufficient funding from national sources.