News of the Day: 5 May 2021

RSF: Haemorrhaging advertisers even since the Russian justice ministry listed it as a “foreign agent,” the news website Meduza has been forced to close bureaux and slash salaries in the past week. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the listing as a serious violation of media pluralism and urges Russia to repeal its draconian “foreign agents” law. “The authorities’ goal is to kill Meduza,” said Ivan Kolpakov, the editor of what is Russia’s most popular independent news website. Founded in Riga, the capital of neighbouring Latvia, in 2014, Meduza has been reeling ever since the Russian justice ministry added it to its list of “foreign agents” on 23 April. It plans to challenge the decision in the courts.

RFE/RL: The media-freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says the Russian government’s “draconian and defamatory” decision to list the Meduza website as a “foreign agent” may force one of the country’s most popular independent news sites to shut down. The listing is “a massive blow to media pluralism in Russia,” the Paris-based RSF said in a May 5 statement. “We call on the Russian Justice Ministry to abolish this draconian and defamatory register of ‘foreign agent’ media, which exists solely to enable the government to tighten its grip on the press,” said Jeanne Cavelier, RSF’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The Moscow Times: Russian lawmakers have proposed banning people linked to terrorist or extremist organizations from running for office ahead of a landmark ruling to outlaw jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s political and activist groups. The changes to Russia’s election law, submitted in the lower-house State Duma on Tuesday, come days ahead of a highly anticipated Moscow court decision to brand Navalny’s nationwide network of some 50 regional offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) — both peaceful political movements — as “extremist” organizations.

Human Rights Watch: A group of Russian lawmakers introduced three bills on May 4, 2021 that would add new dangerous tools to the already significant arsenal of legislative weapons for the country’s crackdown on dissenting voices, Human Rights Watch said today. Two of the bills introduced in the State Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, would expand the impact of Russia’s law on “undesirable” organizations. The third would enable authorities to impose lengthy bans on potential candidates for Duma seats if they are associated with groups deemed “extremist” by the Russian authorities, even if they were associated with the group before it received that designation. “These bills are a far-from-subtle attempt to deprive the Kremlin’s political opponents of legal means of political participation and to instill ever more fear into Russia’s civil society,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For years now, and with particular ferocity in the past six months, the Russian authorities have been trying to inflict death by a thousand cuts on civil society and meaningful political opposition.”

RFE/RL: A group of Russian lawmakers has proposed legislation that would bar individuals involved in the activities of a public or religious group, or any organization that has been recognized by a court as “extremist or terrorist,” from taking part in parliamentary elections. The draft bill, put forward just ahead of September elections to the parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, states that ordinary employees and leaders of such organizations cannot be elected as lawmakers if they worked in such groups for one and three years, respectively, before a court’s decision to ban such groups. The bill also says that individuals who “provided financial support, property, as well as organizational, methodical, consultative, or any other type of assistance” to such organizations one year before the organization was banned will be barred from taking part in parliamentary elections for three years.

RFE/RL: As President Vladimir Putin’s government intensifies its crackdown on all forms of dissent, many Russians who oppose him have found inspiration in the closing remarks Moscow State University student Olga Misik made last week at her trial. Writer Nikolai Kononov posted on Twitter that the speech Misik made in court on April 29 “will end up in school textbooks.” St. Petersburg artist Yuly Rybakov shared Misik’s remarks in full on Facebook and wrote: “With such children, Russia does have a future!” The student’s defiant speech joins the ranks of the impassioned courtroom addresses of dissidents that have characterized the two decades of Putin’s rule and go back at least as far as the Soviet era.

RFE/RL: Russia has filed protocols against Facebook and Google for what Roskomnadzor, the country’s communications regulator, says is the social-media networks’ failure to remove banned content. The official TASS news agency on May 5 quoted a court source as saying five protocols against both Google and Facebook were received by the court, with potential fines amounting to 200 million rubles ($267,000) each. Another social-media giant, Twitter, has already been handed protocols for similar violations, which could see it fined as much as $320,000, the source added.

The Guardian: In 1991, Boris Yeltsin gave Radio Liberty, the US government-funded broadcaster that had fought for decades to bypass Soviet jamming equipment, permission to open its own Moscow bureau. Now, 30 years later, the Kremlin looks close to shutting it down. A deadline for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to pay the first of an estimated $2.4m (£1.7m) in fines will pass for the foreign broadcaster next week, threatening its bureau in Russia with potential police raids, blocked bank accounts, or the arrest of senior employees. RFE/RL says it will not pay the fines, which have accrued for its refusal to brand all its digital and video content as the product of a “foreign agent”. Roskomnadzor, the Russian mass media regulator, has initiated 520 cases against the broadcaster so far, and that number appears likely to grow.

The Moscow Times: The Central African Republic described UN information about abuse by CAR troops and Russian forces as “denunciations,” but promised to investigate them. Government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui, in a statement late Monday, said President Faustin Archange Touadera had received a report from the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA. In it, the mission detailed abuses committed between December 2020 and April 2021 “that seriously accuse national and bilateral forces,” he said, referring to CAR troops and their Russian military supporters. The allegations include “arbitrary/extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual violence, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment (and) arbitrary arrest,” his statement said.

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