WASHINGTON – The Moscow bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and its general director, Andrey Shary, have today filed their case with the European Court of Human Rights, challenging Russia’s use of “foreign agent” laws that have resulted in millions of dollars of fines being imposed on RFE/RL and Mr. Shary since January 2021.
RFE/RL and Mr. Shary argue that Russia’s actions violate the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that they will suffer irreversible harms if the Court does not act quickly. After the Court declined to grant interim measures in response to RFE/RL’s initial application for urgent interim relief on April 16, RFE/RL was invited to submit its case on the merits by May 18. In view of the urgency of the situation, RFE/RL is seeking “Priority Status” for the case under the Court’s Priority Policy.
The filing of the case comes just in time. On May 14, Russian court bailiffs arrived at RFE/RL’s Moscow bureau to notify the organization about enforcement proceedings for the fines arising from RFE/RL’s refusal to label its content as produced by a “foreign agent” -- a term that in Russia connotes that RFE/RL is an enemy of the state. That same day, Russian authorities froze RFE/RL’s Russian bank accounts. If these fines are not paid, the Russian authorities have the power to place RFE/RL into insolvency and to block access to its media sites. Mr. Shary faces the prospect of a prison sentence of up to two years and personal bankruptcy.
In its application, RFE/RL argues that, left unchecked, Russia’s campaign of imposing such severe punishments on RFE/RL over its stand on labeling its content will have a profound chilling effect on what is left of the country’s independent media. In recent weeks, Russia has already added independent media outlets such as the Latvia-based Meduza, Moscow-based First Anticorruption Media (PASMI), and Netherlands-based VTimes.io to its list of “foreign agents,” threatening the continued survival of these organizations.
To date, Russian regulators have issued 520 administrative cases against RFE/RL and Mr. Shary in the Russian courts over a period of four months, with fines totaling over RUB 177.35 million (approximately $2.36 million). RFE/RL has appealed every one of the hundreds of cases, but not a single court has upheld RFE/RL’s legal challenges or decreased the levels of fines imposed by Roskomnadzor.
Since 2017, nine of RFE/RL’s news outlets have been designated “foreign agents” by the Russian Ministry of Justice. The law on “foreign agents” has been condemned by EU High Commissioner Josep Borrell, the European Parliament, the U.S. Department of State, and other international bodies as an infringement of fundamental freedoms.
RFE/RL is represented in the European Court of Human Rights by barrister Can Yeginsu of 4 New Square Chambers, instructed by the international law firm, Covington & Burling LLP.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 41 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 6.5 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2020. 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.