RFE/RL contributor Lyudmila Savitskaya is one of five individuals who have been included on the Russian government’s register of “foreign agent” media. On May 5, a court in the western city of Pskov rejected her appeal of the designation, ruling that the Justice Department’s action was lawful. Savitskaya and RFE/RL reject the designation, and her defense team has vowed to continue its appeals, even to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.
RFE/RL’s Russian Service – known in Russia as Radio Svoboda -- on May 7 published the complete text of Savitskaya’s final statement in court as a blog post, which is presented here in English:
I celebrated Russia’s Day of the Press, May 5, in a courtroom. I was attacked and accused of “protest activity” for my articles about people facing misfortune and for my work as a journalist. Representatives of two state agencies – the Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry – said that Lyudmila Savitskaya is a “foreign agent,” but I tried to make them see common sense. This is what I said:
Representatives of the Justice Ministry, you have confused your “foreign agents.” You are fighting against the wrong people. I am an agent of Russia, an agent of my remarkable fellow citizens. I fight for them, for their right to live normally, with every article I write, with every bit of information that appears on the website of Radio Svoboda. They don’t have anyone else to whom to turn with their misfortune because [the state-controlled] Channel 1, Rossia 1, NTV, and the others who are allowed onto the airwaves never tell about the real problems facing people. Because they aren’t allowed to. Because they have “stop lists.” Because the voters shouldn’t know the truth about what is happening in the country for fear that they will understand everything and vote “incorrectly.”
You call me a “foreign agent” and ascribe political activity to me because of my articles about activists like the Milushkins, about my [RFE/RL] colleague Svetlana Propkopyeva, about an environmental activist who is fighting against an industrial pork farm for the right to breathe clean air, about torture in a prison in Bryansk, about the jamming of electronic communications in the areas around prisons in the Pskov region – although in all those articles all I did was simply report the facts. That is my job – that is the job of a journalist: to honestly write about what is happening. To write in such a way that the authorities pay attention to the misfortunes of citizens and help them with their problems.
In your response to my appeal, you made an interesting selection of my articles, trying to make me out to be a politician and you cleverly forgot to include my articles about veterans who are living in rotting shacks; about the prisoners in concentration camps, who at the state’s orders are huddling in railway-station closets; about the child diabetics who are not being given the medicines they need; about the Pskov paratrooper who voted for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin his entire life and died during a military mission in Syria and about his wife, who was not granted his military pension. Do you consider these to be “texts with a political agenda” or “protest activity”?
You have turned everything on its head, Justice Ministry representatives. You call a person whose work is to help people a “foreign agent.” But the real foreign agents are not here in this courtroom. They are in the Kremlin and the State Duma. They are the ones who every day are passing repressive laws, taking away the rights to life and liberty from citizens, and barring people under the threat of prison from speaking the truth. They are the agents of some sort of foreign-to-us-all totalitarian state. They are. Not me. I am a journalist and I remain a journalist.
“This is an emotional speech,” remarked Judge Tatyana Semyonova thoughtfully. The head of the department of noncommercial organizations of the regional branch of the Justice Ministry, Stanislav Rafalsky, fidgeted angrily in his chair (I was looking him in the eye). And the representatives of the Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry from Moscow said something about “the scope of their authority and the performance of their duties.” They tried to justify their interference in my legal activity as a journalist using any argument they could find: they shook letters from prosecutors and reports from an officer of the Interior Ministry’s anti-extremism Center E, an anonymous commissioner who reported reading my articles on the website of Radio Svoboda with a flashlight (yes, he mentioned using a flashlight). They reproachfully mentioned that I was paid honoraria and asked how I dare to write about people’s problems on social media.
My lawyers and I asked them to show us this documentary evidence. “These are papers marked ‘for official use only’,” they responded.
“And you consider me an agent of what country?” I asked twice of the representatives of the Interior Ministry.
“Your question is incorrect and does not have any bearing on this matter,” one answered me. “Within the framework of the Administrative-Procedural Code, the ministry – as the reconciliation organ supporting an administrative defendant – has submitted documents within the framework of distributing the burden of proof within the limits of its legal competencies.”
Judge Semyonova branded me a “foreign agent” of an unknown power after one hearing based on mysterious court documents. A few days have passed, and I still cannot reconcile myself that in the 21st century a journalist is labeled an enemy of the country simply for writing the truth and working for an international company which, since the days of the Soviet Union, has been a symbol of freedom of thought.
People in judicial robes and military epaulets with ranks bow obsequiously to our jaded authorities, which remain nonetheless an insatiable conspiracy. The law is finished and only terror remains.
“Do you think this regime will last forever?” I asked in court. The three in epaulets and the one in the judge’s robe remained silent. They all understand – it is just that today [the system] came for someone else.
(Translated from Russian by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson)