WASHINGTON—Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) strongly condemns a sharp escalation of intimidation tactics by Russian authorities, which saw state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor overnight threaten to block eight RFE/RL websites serving audiences in Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia unless they pulled down articles tied to corruption investigations by jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s team.
RFE/RL will not comply with these demands. Said President and CEO Jamie Fly, “RFE/RL will not allow the Kremlin to dictate our editorial decisions. This is a blatant act of political censorship by a government apparently threatened by journalists who are merely reporting the truth."
Roskomnadzor sent more than 60 e-mail notifications giving RFE/RL 24 hours to remove content related to Navalny investigations from its two largest websites for Russian audiences – Radio Liberty and Current Time – as well as RFE/RL's Russian-language sites for Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, and local sites for Russia's Siberian, Volga-Ural, and Northwestern regions.
More than a dozen Russian publications, including the newspaper Novaya gazeta, as well as Dozhd television channel and Ekho Moskvy radio station, have received similar notices in recent days. Several decided to comply with the demands and removed the content. The move is the latest in a series of attacks against RFE/RL and other independent media and comes as RFE/RL has been extensively covering the unprecedented Russian military buildup for its audiences in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, rebutting Kremlin disinformation and exposing malign Russian activities.
In the past year, Roskomnadzor has issued 1,040 violations against RFE/RL that will result in fines of more than $13.4 million for its refusal to submit to the unjust and invasive content labeling provisions of Russia’s “foreign agent” law. RFE/RL continues to fight these fines in Russian court and has also filed suit with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over the law. In addition, 18 RFE/RL journalists have been designated as individual “foreign agents.”
On January 26, RFE/RL’s Russian Service was fined 3 million rubles ($39,000) for the alleged “public distribution of knowingly false information about the activities of the U.S.S.R. during World War II.” In fact, the existence of the published material is backed by documents from Russian archives – and RFE/RL is being held liable for actions that are not punishable under Russian law. RFE/RL is appealing the fine, not least to help defend Russia’s shrinking space for press freedom.
In a sign that the crackdown on press freedom may yet intensify, President Putin in late January issued an order calling for the creation of a new “register of toxic content.”
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 37 million people every week in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed 7 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2021. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
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