By: Jackson Sharman
The Russian government is putting independent news media in the country under pressure after amending its controversial “foreign agent” law.
The government first passed the law in 2012 and has periodically expanded upon it since then. The new additions allow the Russian government to place the label of foreign agent – a term that connotes the charge of spy or traitor in Russia – on any individual or group that posts negative opinions of the government online or even simply receives funding from outside of Russia. Once labeled a foreign agent, organizations face much more difficulty in their day-to-day operations. This can include extensive audits, restrictions on the participation of foreigners, and suspensions of all operations.
Those who fail to heed a government order to register as foreign agents and submit reports of all finances and activities can face up to five years in prison. The wide-reaching expansion of the foreign agent law threatens the rights of nongovernmental organizations, human rights groups, and media outlets in Russia. Meduza, a Riga-based online newspaper with an office in Moscow, was the first news site to be labeled a “foreign agent” under the latest legislative change.
On May 14, VTimes was also declared a foreign agent. This comes as no surprise, as VTimes has been very outspoken against the Russian government. The group was started by former Vedomosti journalists who left the organization after accusing the Editor-in-Chief of pro-Kremlin censorship.
Government officials also went to the Moscow offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), confronting the media company over unpaid fines. Russian authorities claim that RFE/RL has violated the “foreign agent” law multiple times and owes almost $1 million in penalties.
RFE/RL differs from other media groups that Russian authorities may target because it receives funding from the US government. State Department spokesman Ned Price responded to the recent events with a warning: “Should the Russian government continue to move to forcibly shut down RFE/RL, we will respond.” Price did not specify what actions the U.S. may take.
These legislative actions are a continuation of the Kremlin’s crackdown on opposition after the mass protests over the arrest of Alexei Navalny in January of 2021. Putin’s government seems to be shaken after such widespread outrage and has since then gone to lengths to handicap all opposition before the legislative elections this September.