The U.S. State Department has expressed "deep concern" about what it calls Russian government efforts "to clamp down on the exercise of freedom of expression."
The March 3 statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price came the same day that a Moscow judge rejected five appeals by U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty against fines imposed on the company under Russia's controversial "foreign agent" law.
"We are concerned by today's denial of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's appeals of fines unjustly imposed under Russia's repressive foreign-agent-registration laws," Price said. "These laws are a further transparent effort to impede the work of RFE/RL outlets, which are already severely limited in their ability to broadcast on television and radio in Russia and to prevent them from bringing real and objective news to the Russian people."
Price called Moscow's actions "unacceptable" and added, "We will continue to support the presence of independent and international media outlets in Russia."
Judge Aleksei Krivoruchko of the Tverskoi district court on March 3 confirmed fines imposed on RFE/RL for failing to mark written and broadcast materials in accordance with regulations set by the state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor. A lower court imposed the fines on February 10.
"RFE/RL rejects the imposition of these fines and does not accept the Russian court's decision to strike down our appeal of them," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in response to the rulings.
"We consider Russian Internet regulator Roskomnadzor's self-labeling regulations -- in fact, orders to deface our content platforms and intimidate our audiences -- to be a state-sponsored assault on media freedom that violates the Russian Constitution and Russia's media law," he said, adding that "RFE/RL will continue to object, protest, and appeal these requirements."
Despite ongoing appeals in more cases on the issue, RFE/RL now has 60 days to pay the fines and come into compliance with the regulations or face the potential closure of its operations inside Russia. It can also further appeal the March 3 decision.
"RFE/RL will not abandon our growing audience in Russia, who continue to engage with our objective and independent journalism despite the Kremlin's pressure campaign," Fly said.
"RFE/RL will not be deterred by these blatant attempts to influence our editorial independence and undermine our ability to reach our audience at a moment when the Russian people are demanding the truth," he added.
Since January 14, Roskommnadzor has opened 260 cases against RFE/RL for violations of the labeling requirements. A Moscow court has already levied fines in 142 cases, with the total fines approaching a value of nearly $1 million.
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, a 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, Russia 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.
Human Rights Watch has described the "foreign agent" legislation as "restrictive" and intended "to demonize independent groups."