Lev Ponomarev on being added to the list of media ‘foreign agents’: ‘We’re going to defend ourselves collectively.’

28 December 2020

Deutsche Welle interviews Lev Ponomarev

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Deutsche Welle]

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.

On 28 December, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation entered the founder of the For Human Rights movement, and four other people – journalists Liudmila Savitskaya, Sergei Markelov and Denis Kamalyagin, and activist Daria Apakhonchich – onto the register of media “foreign agents”.

Initially, only mass media outlets could be included in this list. But at the end of 2020 a law was passed about including persons receiving foreign funding and distributing materials “intended for an unlimited number of people”, including on the Internet. DW asked Ponomarev why he was chosen as one of the first to be entered on the list, and how it will affect his activities.

DW: How did you react to the news that you were included in the list of media “foreign agents”?

Lev Ponomarev: On the one hand, this was expected. For a long time I’ve joked that I would be the first “foreign agent” in Russia three times over (the previous “foreign agents” recognised and liquidated were For Human Rights, the human rights organisation headed by Ponomarev, and the Foundation for the Protection of Prisoners’ Rights). Nevertheless, it is still a little unexpected. And the main thing is that I am on a list of journalists, although I am not actually a journalist. The publications (on this list – DW) are well-known, and I trust them. As far as it goes, I am quite comfortable there.

Do you understand why you were among the first people included in the register?

I can assume that I am an opponent of the organisation which names itself with three letters – the FSB. I received presidential grants for eight years, and they stripped me of them. Then my organisation For Human Rights was deprived of its legal status.

Obviously, this is due to the fact that in most of the cases I deal with, my opponent is the FSB. I am involved in organising public campaigns in defence of those involved in high-profile cases. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hizb ut-Tahrir (both organisations are banned in Russia), the Network case (banned in the Russian Federation). I was one of the first human rights activists to take up the Network case. This movement greatly annoys the leadership of the FSB.

What are you going to do now?

We’ll create an online community with people from this list, maybe the NGO of “foreign agents”. What should we do? We have to think about how to defend ourselves – collectively. And there are various people on the list – I don’t know them yet. But we’ll get acquainted.

By law, you now need to create a legal entity and mark your materials with the postscript that you are a “foreign agent”. Are you ready for this?

Yes, I’m already looking for a picture of myself for the purpose. I have one – once for my birthday the guys made a real “foreign agent” out of me – dark glasses and all that. And here I am, going to be labelled as such.

And a question about the legal entity. I already run a legal entity that is recognised as a “foreign agent”. Do I need to register another one? … But I hope the Ministry of Justice will advise me.

You said that you write for free in your blog on Echo of Moscow, and you also publish in Novaya gazeta. Will you continue to do this?

Of course, I will write, I’ll just sign as a “foreign agent”. I’m already used to this status. And I note that it hasn’t done me much damage. The number of people coming to me has not decreased. It may even have increased.

We see that more and more people are using the Internet and fewer watching television. There is less confidence in the authorities, more and more people are disappointed in them. I would say that “foreign agent” operations are getting more and more popular. The positive connotations (of this status – DW) are always increasing.

Why do you think such a designation was introduced?

In my opinion, people are making careers for themselves; they want to be on trend. Generally, it’s just some bit of stupidity.

Translated by Anna Bowles

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