CSO of the Week: Russian authorities designate Proekt Media an ‘undesirable foreign organisation’

Week-ending 16 July 2021

On 15 July Russia designated the independent investigative media outlet Proekt as an ‘undesirable’ organisation and labelled a number of the group’s journalists as ‘foreign agents.’ Proekt was founded in 2018 and had published a several investigations into leading Russian political figures, most recently the minister of the interior, Vladimir Kolokoltsev. Proekt is published by Project Media Inc., which is based in the United States. The move effectively bans the organisation. If it continued, its staff would be exposed to criminal prosecution. Eight of the publication’s staff, including Proekt’s editor-in-chief, Roman Badanin, have been designated as ‘foreign agents.’


The Guardian, 15 July 2021: The Kremlin’s war on independent journalism in Russia has escalated after the Proekt investigative media outlet was outlawed in an act of revenge for a series of deeply embarrassing revelations about Vladimir Putin and top Kremlin officials. The rare decision to ban a critical media outlet by fiat is a bellwether for Russia’s new wave of investigative news outlets, which compete to publish damaging scoops about top officials and are now bracing for the Kremlin to employ similar pressure on them to shut down. State media on Thursday announced that Russia’s justice ministry had added Proekt to a list of “undesirable organisations”, meaning its journalists must stop working for the site or face criminal prosecution, and added eight journalists, including Proekt’s editor-in-chief, Roman Badanin, to a register of “foreign agents”. Several reporters for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Open Media were also declared foreign agents.

The Moscow Times, 15 July 2021: Russia has added independent investigative outlet Proekt to its registry of “undesirable” organizations, a designation that bans the outlet’s activities and puts its staff at risk of jail time, and labeled several of its journalists “foreign agents.” Founded in 2018, Proekt, one of the country’s last independent news outlets, has been behind several high-profile investigations into hidden wealth and corruption among Russia’s elites. Police raided the homes of its chief editor Roman Badanin and journalist Maria Zholobova last month while deputy editor-in-chief Mikhail Rubin was detained after they announced a new report into Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev’s alleged hidden wealth.

RFE/RL, 15 July 2021: Authorities in Russia have effectively banned investigative news outlet The Project after declaring it an “undesirable” organization in a major escalation of the Kremlin’s clampdown on independent media. The July 15 move, part of a wider crackdown ahead of parliamentary elections in September on media that authorities view as hostile and foreign-backed, targets a media outlet that has published a series of well-researched, unflattering, and sometimes embarrassing investigations into Russia’s ruling elite. “The reason for this decision was the fact that its activities pose a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation,” the Prosecutor-General’s Office said in a statement on July 15, mirroring the wording it has used in similar announcements against other independent media outlets.

RFE/RL, 16 July 2021: The Russian investigative news outlet The Project has announced the “liquidation” of its U.S.-registered company a day after being declared an “undesirable” organization by the Prosecutor-General’s Office in Moscow. The Project’s editors wrote on Telegram on July 16 that their company registered in the United States “is in the stage of liquidation and has no financial relations with journalists working in Russia.”

The Moscow Times, 16 July 2021: Russian investigative journalism outlet Proekt was added to the country’s registry of “undesirable” organizations Thursday, banning its activity in Russia and putting its staff at risk of legal penalties including jail time. The designation is the latest example of Russia’s crackdown on independent and investigative media in recent months, with multiple organizations and individuals being pronounced “undesirable” or added to the country’s list of “foreign agents.”

RFE/RL, 16 July 2021: Single-person protests have been held in Siberia’s largest city, Novosibirsk, to express support for journalists who have been added to the controversial registry of foreign agents. On July 15, Russia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office banned investigative news outlet The Project after declaring it an “undesirable” organization and added eight journalists, including The Project’s chief editor Roman Badanin and four of his colleagues, as well as an RFE/RL freelance correspondent in Moscow, Yelizaveta Mayetnaya, the chief editor of Open Media news outlet Yulia Yarosh and her deputy, Maksim Glikin, to the list of foreign agents.

The Moscow Times, 16 July 2021: Independent Russian investigative outlet Proekt has promised a new and potentially explosive investigation in the coming week in defiance of its new “undesirable” ban. Proekt is Russia’s first news outlet to be declared “undesirable,” a designation that forces labeled organizations to disband and places members and financial contributors at risk of significant jail time. Over the past year alone, Proekt has released bombshell investigations into President Vladimir Putin’s alleged extramarital daughter in addition to the alleged hidden wealth of tycoons with close ties to the president, Putin’s security chiefs and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Human Rights Watch, 16 July 2021: Russian authorities have just delivered another blow to independent media in the country. On July 15, the prosecutor general’s office blacklisted Project Media Inc. as an “undesirable foreign organization,” banning it in Russia and making it unlawful for anyone in Russia’s jurisdiction to be associated with it. Project Media Inc., based in the United States, is the publisher of the Russian investigative media outlet, Project, which is now effectively also banned in Russia. Russia’s law on “undesirable foreign organizations” authorizes the prosecutor’s office to designate as “undesirable” any foreign or international organization that is deemed to undermine Russia’s security, defense, or constitutional order. The law is deliberately broad and vague.

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