Journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned Russia for imposing "exorbitant" fines on several Russian-language services of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, saying the country's "foreign agent" law was "absurd" and "designed to silence" independent and opposition media in the country.
Russia’s state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor has opened 260 cases against RFE/RL Russian-language news services for failing to mark written and broadcast materials in accordance with the onerous regulations. A Moscow court has already levied fines totaling some $1 million in 142 cases.
The string of cases against RFE/RL means that, pending appeals, it must pay the fines and come into compliance with regulations or face the potential closure of its operations inside Russia.
“Although it has been broadcasting in Russia for the past 30 years, Radio Svoboda (RFE/RL's Russian-language service) is now threatened with closure on the basis of an absurd and stigmatizing law,” Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement published on March 16.
“These exorbitant fines are part of a long process of ‘cleansing’ Russia’s media landscape in order to put an end to perestroika’s pluralism. We condemn this persecution of independent and opposition media outlets and call for an end to the judicial proceedings against" RFE/RL, she added.
Russia's so-called "foreign agent" legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as "foreign agents," and to submit to audits.
Later modifications targeted foreign-funded media.
In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL's Russian Service on the list, along with six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time, the network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified to allow the Russian government to include individuals, including foreign journalists, on its "foreign agent" list and to impose restrictions on them.
In December 2020, authorities added five individuals to its "foreign agent" list, including three contributors to RFE/RL's Russian Service. All five are appealing their inclusion on the list.
Roskomnadzor last year adopted rules requiring listed media to mark all written materials with a lengthy notice in large text, all radio materials with an audio statement, and all video materials with a 15-second text declaration.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has called the regulations “orders to deface our content platforms and intimidate our audiences” and said RFE/RL will continue “to object, protest, and appeal these requirements."