Agents of Russia's court bailiffs service have initiated enforcement proceedings against RFE/RL's Russian branch over unpaid fines accrued because of violations of the country's controversial "foreign agents" laws.
The bailiffs spent about two hours on May 14 in RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and initiated an inventory of equipment there. They did not interfere with work at the bureau or detain anyone.
Since the beginning of the year, the state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor has presented to courts about 520 protocols concerning violations of the law by the eight RFE/RL projects that have been included on the Justice Ministry's register of "foreign agent" mass media.
RFE/RL rejects the "foreign agent" designation and has refused to comply with onerous Roskomnadzor requirements that each published or broadcast story include prominent labeling. RFE/RL is in the process of appealing the protocols, but Russian courts have so far rejected more than 250 appeals.
In total, the fines against the broadcaster amount to about 70 million rubles ($950,000).
RFE/RL has asked the European Court of Human Rights to block Russia from enforcing the fines, which the company says are aimed at muzzling independent media.
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 of the law targeted foreign-funded media.
In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL's Russian Service, six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time on the list.
RFE/RL has called the Roskomnadzor fines "a state-sponsored campaign of coercion and intimidation," while the U.S. State Department has described them as "intolerable."
Human Rights Watch has described the "foreign agent" legislation as "restrictive" and intended "to demonize independent groups."
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. Each week, nearly 7 million people access RFE/RL's news portals in Russia.