WASHINGTON – Early this morning, Russian court bailiffs arrived at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Moscow bureau to notify the organization about the beginning of enforcement proceedings against the company for unpaid fines. This represents a serious escalation in the Russian government’s campaign to drive RFE/RL out of the country. RFE/RL President Jamie Fly criticized the Kremlin’s intensifying efforts against independent media and also refuted recent Russian Foreign Ministry claims that “foreign agent” labeling laws were somehow reflections of “media pluralism” within a “truly free society.”
“RFE/RL’s journalists in Russia are patriotic Russian nationals – not Americans,” Fly said. “They provide independent news and information so their fellow citizens do not ‘get used to untruth and will live in lies,’ as one of these journalists recently put it. RFE/RL will continue to fight these desperate attempts by the Kremlin to censor uncomfortable truths. We will not be silenced by these heavy-handed tactics and we will not abandon our Russian audience.”
Under the pretense of this law, the government is targeting the last remaining vestiges of independent media, with a concerted effort to drive RFE/RL from the country. While RFE/RL faces exorbitant fines for defending its editorial independence in Russia, and individual journalists working with RFE/RL face the prospect of being personally labeled “foreign agents” by the Russian government, RFE/RL is not alone. In the past two weeks, the Russian Justice Ministry has designated online media outlet Meduza, Moscow-based First Anticorruption Media (PASMI), and Netherlands-based VTimes.io as media “foreign agents,” bringing the continued survival of these organizations, and of free media in Russia, into question.
To date, Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor has presented RFE/RL with 520 violations of its labeling restrictions, which will result (once all are adjudicated by Russian courts) in fines of $2.4 million. All appeals of these fines by RFE/RL have been summarily rejected in Russian courts. In addition, appeals by three RFE/RL freelancers designated in December 2020 as individual media “foreign agents” have been rejected by courts in northwestern Russia, forcing them to begin filing detailed financial declarations with Russian authorities and identify themselves in all electronic communications as a ‘foreign agent.’
The U.S State Department has spoken out recently on the growing threat to press freedom in Russia. During a May 7 interview with RFE/RL, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Russia’s mounting pressure on independent media, including RFE/RL, saying it was a sign of Kremlin weakness. In addition, in response to an urgent petition to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the court has asked RFE/RL to file its substantive application for relief from Russia’s assault on its operations in Russia by May 18; it is seeking “priority” status for the case, in view of the urgency and the case’s wider public importance.