As Russia expands its list of so-called “foreign agent” media outlets, slapping them with a label that hobbles their work, the journalists who staff them are doing what journalists anywhere do best -- investigating why their organizations were targeted and by whom. There’s one name that occurs with growing frequency: Aleksandr Ionov. The founder of an obscure Moscow-based think tank called the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, Ionov has long been seen as a freelance pro-Kremlin activist helping advance a government-backed war of attrition against perceived enemies. Also read: Russia's FSB Unveils Broad List Of Topics That Could Result In 'Foreign Agent' Label.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
The Taliban has imposed “wide-ranging restrictions on media and free speech” since seizing control of Afghanistan in August, said Human Rights Watch (HRW). In late September, the Taliban-led government introduced a list of rules for Afghan journalists that critics say opens the door to censorship and persecution. “Despite the Taliban’s promises to allow media that ‘respected Islamic values’ to function, the new rules are suffocating media freedom in the country,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at HRW, said in a statement on October 1.
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that an arrest warrant has been issued for prominent investigative journalist Roman Dobrokhotov, chief editor of the website The Insider, which was recently added to the country's registry of "foreign agents." According to the FSB’s September 30 statement, Dobrokhotov is accused of illegally crossing the border into Ukraine in August “bypassing the established checkpoints.” The statement added that Dobrokhotov faces criminal prosecution and up to two years in prison. Earlier in the day, The Insider reported that FSB officers searched Dobrokhotov’s Moscow apartment and that of his parents, which is located next door.
“Journalist As A Foreign Agent,” a limited-liability company created by RFE/RL Russian Service contributor Ludmila Savitskaya after her own designation as a media ‘foreign agent,’ has in turn been designated a media ‘foreign agent.’ Savitskaya tried to challenge the “foreign agent” designation in court, but the Pskov Regional Court upheld the decision. Commenting on the ruling of the court, she said that she was expecting this ruling and would appeal it. Savitskaya added, "Living with this label is a burden of an honest journalist in modern Russia." (Russian Service)
The Russian government has designated three prominent information outlets and 22 individuals as "foreign agents," continuing what critics say is a broad crackdown on independent media and civic organizations. The Justice Ministry on September 29 added the parent company of the Mediazona website and the human-rights project Zona Prava to its list of foreign-agent media organizations. The noncommercial information resource OVD-Info, which monitors the activities of law enforcement organizations, was added to the government’s list of unregistered "foreign agent" organizations.
On September 28, RFE/RL Belarus Service consultant Ihar Losik marked his 460th day in pre-trial detention, in a detention center in the city of Homel where his now four-month-long closed door trial continues. Losik’s wife Darya, who stays outside of the detention center during Ihar’s trial, says that that “letters [from Ihar] have stopped coming again.” Dozens of journalists and media workers are currently being held in Belarusian prisons. Losik was initially charged with using his popular Telegram channel to "prepare to disrupt public order" ahead of the August 9, 2020 presidential election that incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka subsequently claimed he won by a landslide amid allegations of widespread fraud. (Belarus Service)
RFE/RL Ukrainian Service contributor Vladyslav Yesypenko accused one of the civilian witnesses of “not telling the truth” during his latest court hearing on September 28 in Russia-occupied Crimea. According to Yesypenko's lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, one of the witnesses denied that the defendant was brought to the location where Yesypenko allegedly had cached a grenade with a bag on his head and wearing headphones. Dinze also noted that both witnesses looked like they had been coached in advance of testifying in court - they remembered the key circumstances and used professional legal terms. (Ukrainian Service/Crimea.Realii)
A Russian court has ordered Google to pay another hefty fine for violating the country’s rules on banned content, as Moscow continues to push foreign firms to open offices in Russia and store users’ personal data on its territory. The magistrate court of Moscow's Taganka district on September 29 ruled that Google must pay a total of 6.5 million rubles ($89,400) for failure to delete banned content in two cases. Court spokeswoman Zulfiya Gurinchuk said in a statement that the U.S. technology giant is facing a similar charge in another case to be heard on November 8.
Video-sharing platform YouTube has deleted two German-language channels managed by Russia’s state-owned media company RT, prompting Moscow to blast the company for "censorship" and vow retaliation. U.S. tech giant Google, which owns YouTube, said it deleted RT DE and Der Fehlende Part (The Missing Part) on September 28 because the channels had published what it called “misinformation” about COVID-19 and vaccines. Google said it warned RT DE that it was violating its rules and temporarily blocked its ability to publish.
Belarus's Information Ministry has blocked access to the website of the Belarusian version of the popular Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda. The ministry justified its September 29 decision by saying materials on the site "could produce threats to national security, including through the artificial irritation of tensions and conflicts in society." The publication posted on its Telegram channel that it had not received official notification that its site, which receives about 20,000 visitors a day, had been blocked. Belarus has been in the throes of a political standoff since a disputed presidential election in August 2020 handed a sixth term to authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging Bulgaria to take concrete action to support local media outlets that disseminate reliable news and information, saying the country “combines all of the problems for press freedom that exist in various parts of Europe.” In a statement on September 27, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog cited “physical attacks and smear campaigns” against journalists, “impunity for crimes of violence” against them, judicial harassment, bias in public media, corruption, disinformation, lack of media pluralism, as well as “bias and opaqueness in the distribution of state aid to the media, to the detriment of independent media outlets.”
After Georgia’s State Security Service had warned opposition TV channel "Mtavari" general director Nika Gvaramia about an impending attempt on his life and that he may be in serious danger, the deputy head of the Service’s anti-terrorist department went public with information about the contract murder, that the suspects had been identified, and that Gvaramia’s security had been doubled. Gvaramia called out the security official for essentially giving those planning the assassination attempt instructions on how to liquidate him, while Gvaramia himself was instructed not to talk about it. (Ekho Kavkaza)
A series of single-person protests was held in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala demanding the release of Chernovik newspaper journalist Abdulmumin Hajiyev and other political prisoners. Hajiyev, who has been declared a political prisoner by the Memorial Human Rights Center, has been accused of financing terrorism; Amnesty International has recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. (Kavkaz Realii)