Law of the Week: The ‘foreign agent’ law

Week-ending 3 December 2021

The authorities began a year ago to place media outlets, journalists and now lawyers on the “foreign agents” list. […] There were 11 media entities on the list in December 2020 but another 85 entities and journalists have been added in the past year. To avoid fines and criminal proceedings, the now 99 “media foreign agents” must add a 24-word declaration in large letters, identifying themselves as foreign agents, to every article and online post and every statement they issue. And they must send a detailed report of their income and expenses to the justice ministry every quarter and pay for an independent audit of these reports every year. Individuals on the “foreign agents” list must also create a specific legal entity for this purpose. The “foreign agents” law originally targeted NGOs receiving international funding when it was first promulgated in 2012. It has since been amended many times, especially in 2017, in order to target media outlets, and in 2019, to include individual journalists and bloggers. The law’s wording has become so vague that it is now easy for the authorities to use it against anyone they want to silence. The confusion surrounding the law serves to intimidate not only journalists and sources but also the readers and advertisers of a media outlet placed on the list, with the aim of making the outlet gradually disappear. This is what has been happening to Meduza, Russia’s most popular news website, whose future has been uncertain since it was added to the register in April. Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

‘After targeting journalists, Russian authorities now targeting their lawyers,’ RSF, 2 December 2021

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