Person of the Week: Lev Ponomarev, one of four individuals designated ‘foreign agents’

Week-ending 1 January 2020

On 28 December human rights defender Lev Ponomarev, head of the human rights NGO For Human Rights, was designated as a ‘foreign agent’ along with three journalists and a civil society activist. This was the first time individuals have been designated as such. The other four individuals are: Liudmila Savitskaya and Sergei Markelov (freelance correspondents for RFE/RL), Denis Kamalyagin (editor in chief of the online news site Pskov Province) and Daria Apakhonchich (activist and Red Cross worker).


RFE/RL, 28 December 2020: Russia has for the first time branded individuals as “foreign agents,” including three who contribute to RFE/RL. Five journalists or activists in total were added to the Russian Justice Ministry’s registry of “foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent” on December 28. Previously only foreign-funded, nongovernmental rights organizations (NGOs) and rights groups were placed on the registry, in keeping with Russia’s passage of its controversial “foreign-agents law” in 2012. The law was later expanded to include media outlets and independent journalists. Inclusion on the registry imposes additional restrictions, such as the obligation to provide regular financial reports on activities and in the way publications are labeled. The legislation has been criticized by rights groups, who say the law has harmed NGOs and is used to clamp down on dissent. The three listed individuals affiliated with RFE/RL are: Lyudmila Savitskaya and Sergei Markelov, freelance correspondents for the North Desk (Sever.Realii) of RFE/RL’s Russian Service; and Denis Kamalyagin, editor in chief of the online news site Pskov Province and a contributor to RFE/RL’s Russian Service. Prominent human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov was also named to the registry, as was activist and Red Cross worker Daria Apakhonchich.

Rights in Russia, 28 December 2020: Founder of the For Human Rights movement, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lev Ponomarev has become one of the first individuals on the register of media “foreign agents”. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, the human rights activist spoke about the consequences of this for his work.

RFE/RL, 29 December 2020: The Council of Europe says it is concerned about Russia branding individuals as “foreign agents” after Moscow added five people to a registry that activists say is used as a way to clamp down on dissent. The council, one of the continent’s leading human rights organizations, said in a statement on December 29 that the move — and the foreign agent law in general — “stifles the development of civil society and freedom of expression.” The comment comes a day after Russia said it had placed five people — three journalists who contribute to RFE/RL and two human rights activists — on the Justice Ministry’s registry of “foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent.”

RFE/RL, 30 December 2020: Daria Apakhonchich is a former Red Cross volunteer. She has given Russian lessons to migrant and refugee women. And she has used her position as a performance artist to organize events to protect the environment, defend feminist causes, and protest Russian military adventurism. Apakhonchich believes her activities are behind her being among the first individuals to be branded a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Justice Ministry on December 28. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service just after her placement on the Justice Ministry’s registry of “foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent,” Apakhonchich said flatly that she “is not a foreign agent” and that she plans to appeal the decision to add her name to the list of 17 entities and Russian citizens. “I did nothing to get on this list and I did nothing to be considered a foreign media agent,” she said on December 28. “For me this is the main surprise, because I am not engaged in journalism.” Apakhonchich suspects that she was named to the list along with four journalists and activists because of her “feminist activity.”

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