PRAGUE -- RFE/RL's Russian Service has filed documents with Russia's Federal Tax Service to register as a "foreign agent" to comply with a law that critics say the Kremlin uses to muzzle dissent, limit news plurality, and discourage the free exchange of ideas.
Andrei Shary, the director of RFE/RL's Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, said on January 24 that the papers had been filed in recent days.
"This week we filed all of the necessary papers with Russian tax authorities after we received all necessary clarifications regarding the registration process from the Justice Ministry," Shary said.
According to Shary, the ministry informed him that one registration covers all RFE/RL projects operating on Russian territory.
Russia passed the original "foreign agent" law -- which requires all nongovernmental organizations receiving foreign funding to register -- in 2012 following a major wave of anti-government protests.
In December, President Vladimir Putin signed an amendment to the law which brands reporters who work for organizations officially listed as foreign agents as foreign agents themselves.
The label is applied to individuals who cooperate with foreign media outlets and receive financial or other material support from them.
At the time, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly harshly criticized the amendment and called the law "an outrage."
“RFE/RL works with hundreds of Russian correspondents across the country who are a lifeline for news-deprived local communities and who tackle important issues ignored by state media, but who, according to this law, should now, absurdly, be considered ‘foreign agents,’” Fly said at the time.
“These are exceptional and dedicated journalists. It is an outrage that this law targets their work and jeopardizes their security in an attempt to silence them and deprive Russian citizens of their right to seek reliable information.”
Russian officials have said the law was a "symmetrical response" after Russia's state-funded channel RT -- which U.S. authorities accuse of spreading propaganda -- was required to register its U.S. operating unit under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Critics of the law say it stigmatizes organizations with the designation and would do the same to journalists if they are labeled as foreign agents.
RFE/RL operates a large bureau in Moscow, has hundreds of contributors across Russia, and has recently launched dedicated reporting units to provide up-close coverage of northern Russia (Sever.Realii) and Siberia (Sibir.Realii).
Its North Caucasus and Tatar-Bashkir language services have similarly sought to make their reporting more accessible to regional audiences by starting up websites -- Kavkaz.Realii and Idel.Realii -- in Russian.
Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, relies on a reporting network that covers the entire space of the former Soviet Union to reach Russian speakers within and beyond Russia’s borders.