Law of the Week: Committee to Protect Journalists calls for repeal of ‘foreign agent’ law.

Week-ending 15 January 2021

On 14 January 2021 the Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Russian authorities to repeal the foreign agents law and ensure that the country’s media regulator is not used to censure journalists and harass and threaten media organizations.


Committee to Protect Journalists, 14 January 2021: Russian authorities should repeal the country’s foreign agents law to ensure that local and foreign news outlets can work freely, and in the meantime refrain from fining media organizations over alleged violations of the law, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On January 12, Roskomnadzor, the country’s media regulator, issued four notices to media outlets run by the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and four personal notices to Andrey Shary, the general director of the RFE/RL’s legal entity in Russia, as the person responsible for each outlet, according to a statement by the regulator, a report by RFE/RL, and news reports.

RFE/RL, 14 January 2021: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Russian authorities should repeal the country’s controversial “foreign agents” law and ensure that Russian telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor is not used to threaten and harass media organizations and censure journalists. “Russian authorities regularly think up new tools and implementations to obstruct the flow of news and information, to the detriment of their own public,” Gulnoza Said, the New York-based media-rights group’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said on January 14.

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RFE/RL: Russia’s telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor has drawn up its first eight administrative protocols — all against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — for violating the country’s controversial foreign agents law. Roskomnadzor said in a statement on its website on January 12 that the offenses are “for noncompliance by the media performing the functions of a foreign agent with the requirements of the law on labeling information disseminated by them.” The protocols target four of RFE/RL’s Russian-language projects — its main service for Russia, Radio Liberty; the Current Time TV and digital network; and Siberia.Reality and Idel.Reality, two regional sites delivering local news and information to audiences in Siberia and the Volga-Urals. “The drawn-up protocols will be sent to the magistrate’s court within three working days to make decisions on the imposition of administrative fines,” Roskomnadzor said. RFE/RL President Ted Lipien called the move “a dramatic escalation” and reaffirmed the broadcaster’s determination to fulfill its mission toward its audiences in Russia and elsewhere.

RFE/RL, 15 January 2021: At the end of last year, Russia adopted a number of new legal measures that many observers say are intended to further restrict the country’s already state-dominated media sphere. Among other things, the government has begun placing individuals on its list of “foreign-agent” media, subjecting them to potential fines or prison sentences. The government has also criminalized online defamation. Russia’s state media monitor, Roskomnadzor, this week drew up its first eight administrative protocols — all of them targeting Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — for allegedly violating the “foreign agents” law. The protocols target four of RFE/RL’s Russian-language projects — its main service for Russia, Radio Svoboda; the Current Time television and digital network; and Siberia.Reality and Idel.Reality, two regional sites delivering local news and information to audiences in Siberia and the Volga-Urals region. The Siberia Desk of RFE/RL’s Russian Service spoke with lawyer Galina Arapova, head of the Voronezh-based Mass Media Defense Center, about the government’s latest moves and what impact they could have on Russian civil society.

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Human Rights Watch, 13 January 2021: The Covid-19 pandemic challenged Russia’s healthcare system and provided a pretext for Russian authorities to further encroach on fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2021. Russia passed controversial constitutional amendments, including allowing President Vladimir Putin to run again for two more six-year presidential terms, that were ultimately approved in a plebiscite. A widespread crackdown on dissenting voices followed, with several new criminal cases and politically motivated raids, detentions, and prosecutions against opposition figures, civic activists, and organizations. Prosecution under the “undesirable organizations” and “foreign agents” laws were used to further intimidate activists, while new draft “foreign agents” legislation, which introduces new, oppressive restrictions, was submitted to parliament. “The pandemic and some of the constitutional amendments added a worrying new dynamic to Russia’s worsening human rights record,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “In 2020, the Kremlin took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to push for increasingly repressive measures and suppression of dissent and civic activism.”

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