Russia, Great and Beautiful

 

velikaa-prekrasnaa-rossia_med_hrExhibition view of Vasya Lozhkin, Russia, Great and Beautiful (2010). Photo courtesy of Ekho Moskvy

The Case of the Repost Following a Picket: The Story of an Activist Who Has Sought Asylum in the US
OVD Info
August 28, 2018

Vladimir resident Victoria Lobova was involved in two events in the Don’t Call Him Dimon campaign, and now she has been forced to ask for political asylum in the US. The placard the activist took to the events caught the eye of law enforcement. Lobova faces criminal charges for posting images of it on the social media website VK. OVD Info asked Lobova to tell her own story.

I was involved in an anti-corruption rally on March 26, 2017. I was not punished in any way at the time. Then, on June 12, 2017, the country was swept by a wave of anti-corruption rallies, and I held a solo picket. I was approached by two policemen who asked me to identify myself. I told them my name, and they said I had to go with them. I refused, since I had not violated any laws. They telephoned somebody, asked him what to do, and read him the text of my placard over the phone.

I stood with the placard in downtown Vladimir. The slogan on the placard read, “I’m a young woman. I don’t want to decide anything. I want lace panties, and I want [Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev to respond to the country about yachts, vineyards, nonsense, malarkey, and hodgepodge.”

In the evening, I had a visit from the security services, who said I had to report to the police. When I arrived there I was written up for committing an administrative offense: violating the rules for public rallies. I won the court case. Later, in July, a policeman came to my home and said “extremist” matter had been spotted on my VK page.

I had told the police my address and my name during my solo picket. Subsequently, they staked out my social media page. That was how it all kicked off. If I had not carried out a solo picket and mixed with the crowd at the protest rally instead, othing would have come of it. Before I was involved in protest rally, I had a page on VK where I covered political news, but the authorities paid me no mind.

I was cited for a picture that drew a parallel between Putin’s politics and Hitler’s politics. There were Nazi symbols in the photo. Two weeks later, four police officers came and drove me to a temporary detention facility.

I didn’t know till the last minute I would be spending the night there. They took my fingerprints, catalogued the entire contents of my bag, and photographed me. I was told that an ethnic Russian would never publicly display Nazi symbols and that children could have seen them. I replied that the picture had a completely different message. If you read the text, you would easily conclude Nazism was condemned by the authors. I also said that children hardly became Nazis the second they saw a swastika somewhere. Then I was taken to a cell and locked up till morning.

Lozhkin-1Detail of Vasya Lozhkin’s Russia, Great and Beautiful. Russia is shown as surrounded by countries inhabited by “slant-eyed monkeys,” “wogs,” and other peoples identified by equally offensive terms for non-Russian peoples and ethnic groups. Image courtesy of New Chronicle of Current Events

There was a court hearing in the morning. I was sentenced to three days in jail. Then, in January 2018, the FSB filed criminal charges against me under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (“incitement of hatred or enmity”) for Vasya Lozhkin’s picture Russia, Great and Beautiful, which they had also found reposted on my VK page. (In August 2018, a court ruled the picture could not be considered “extremist.”)

The FSB investigator was unable to get me to confess, and the case seemingly died down. But then the police again paid visits to my house. I would not open the door, which they photographed, probably by way of reporting to their superiors. When they left they would first make the rounds of the neighbors. That was when I realized they would not leave me alone and would send me to prison come what may.

I left Russia in May. I just bought tickets and flew away. There are opportunities for obtaining political asylum. In this sense, I think everything will be fine. I have lots of evidence that I was persecuted.

VK handed over all the information needed to the FSB, so my case was no exception to established practice. I continue to use VK, but now I am somewhere safe. I advise people in Russia to be more careful.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Guerillas Gone Mental: Why the Russian Secret Services Forced Kristina Snopp and Her Husband to Leave Russia

Refusing to Cooperate with the FSB and Pictures of Putin: The Story of a Couple Seeking Political Asylum in Georgia
Sofia Rusova
OVD Info
August 22, 2018

Kristina Snopp and her husband, Denis. Photo courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info

A young married couple from Krasnodar Territory have applied for political asylum in Georgia. So far, they have had two interviews with the immigration service. The couple are certain that if they weresent back to Russia they would face criminal charges and prison sentences. Sofia Rusova discovered how a reporter at a municipal newspaper and her bike mechanic husband attracted the notice of local FSB agents and the police.

Refusing to Cooperate with the FSB
“I am Kristina Snopp,  and I am afraid to return to Russia.”

This was how the 32-year-old reporter from Tuapse prefaced her asylum request to the Georgian authorities. Snopp and her husband, Denis Snopp, are currently living in a refugee center in Georgia. Snopp made the decision to leave Russia after she learned her posts on the social media network VK had been examined for “extremism” and “insulting religious believers.”

Snopp never wanted to be involved in politics. She was never a member of a political party, permitting herself to have opinions only on a few issues like religion, the environment, and Russia’s foreign policy. If she did attend protest rallies,  they mainly had to do with ecological issues. Like many residents of Tuapse she protested construction of a bulk shipping terminal by the company EuroChem in 2011.

Back in 2014, Snopp received a call on her mobile phone from an FSB officer who introduced himself as Denis. He wanted to talk with her.

“For around two hours, he grilled me about the people with whom I interacted. Moreover, he asked personal questions about my beliefs, what organizations I was involved with, and why,” Snopp recounts.

“I’m a very inquisitive person. I’m really interested in world religions and, at the time, I was hanging out with people from different confessions, with the Hindus (yogis),  Muslims, Protestants, and pagans in our area. FSB agent Denis was really interested in information about people who practiced religions other than Russian Orthodoxy. He suggested I cooperate with the FSB in combating ‘cults.’ I turned him down. Denis copied down my details and said we should stay in touch, and I should contact him if I found out something new. He told me people in Russia should be religious believers, moreover they had better be Russian Orthodox Christians, since it was the ‘state religion and the most correct religion,’ as he put it. Denis also asked me questions about my political views. I replied I was basically uninterested in politics.”

As the saying goes, if you are not interested in politics, politics is interested in you. Roughly a month after the first informal meeting, the FSB agent came to the offices of the newspaper Chernomorye segodnya [Black Sea Today], where Snopp worked, and tried to make contact with her coworkers.

Chernomorye segodnya
In 2012, Snopp officially began working at Chernomorye segodnya, the local newspaper. After Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, the editorial policies of national media outlets changed radically. This change also affected the tiny newspaper in Tuapse. When she publicly criticized Putin’s foreign policies on social networks, local internet forums, and in discussions with friends, Snopp attracted the close scrutiny of her editors and once again came to the attention of Tuapse’s intelligence services.

“I was concerned about it, since I believed Russia’s actions were mean and unfair to Ukraine. Moreover, I had friends in Ukraine, who wrote to me on social networks about the real state of affairs there, about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea and Donbass, and the lawlessness they were perpetrating even as President Putin denied it was happening. I published posts on my page on VK in which Putin was compared with Hitler,” Snopp says.

Her editors at Chernomorye segodnya knew about Snopp’s stance on Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. When she labeled it annexation outright, her editor, Alexei Chamchev, said, “Then, what are you doing here? Leave the country.”

According to Snopp,  her job became more and more emotionally complicated. The newspaper published numerous commissioned articles meant to defame specific people, as well as articles that openly encouraged hatred of Ukrainians and praised Russian politicians. Snopp would refuse to work on these articles. She mainly wrote about daily news, and cultural and religious events.

Devastated Tuapse 
In 2015, under a pseudonym, Snopp published articles about environmental conditions in Tuapse on the website Proza.ru and VK. She wrote about environmentally harmful industrial facilities, the increase in incidences of cancer and high levels of unemployment in the city, and how city hall hushed up the problems.

“At press conferences, I would post straight, tough questions to regional ecologists who argued that all the indicators were well within the norms. My boss knew about it, of course. When I arrived in Tuapse as a student in 2001, the city was still beautiful and thriving. Lots of tourists visited the city. Gradually, the industrial estates expanded so much they literally consumed all the beauty of those places. The ugly oil tanks, the industrial buildings, the fumes, steam, and chemical dust produced by the factories, and the oil waste pouring into the river and the sea have disfigured and poisoned my beloved city. There is a lot to say about the harm caused to the locals,” says Snopp.

Dismissal from the Newspaper
There were no actual reasons to fire Snopp from her  job at the newspaper, but immediately after the 2016 New Year’s holiday, she was urged to quit her job on her own, as it were.

kristina_d.rThe photograph that supposedly led to Kristina Snopp’s dismissal from her job. Courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info

The ostensible cause for her dismissal was a playful, artsy photo shoot in which Snopp and her husband, dressed in black leather, portrayed Satanist metalheads, an inverted pentagram hanging in the background.

“The editor told me privately the real reason I was fired was something else. People in city hall had long been advising him to get rid of such a politically unreliable reporter,” says Snopp.

Krasnodar
After her dismissal from the newspaper in Tuapse, Snopp and her husband moved to Krasnodar. Snopp thought she would have no trouble finding work in the big city. At first, she looked for jobs in journalism. She had dozens of interviews and completed various assignments, but she was constantly turned down.

Snopp decided to write for her own pleasure while earning money another way. She got a job as a shop clerk at a tobacco chain store. Soon, however, the proprietor got a phone call from an anonymous caller who informed him Snopp was a member of an “extremist” organization. She was fired.

In February 2018, police officers telephoned Snopp’s relatives and her husband’s relatives, demanding they provide them with the couple’s exact address.

“On February 14, police showed up at Denis’s workplace. They wanted to see me as well. Denis called, and I went there. We were not given an official written summons. Nothing was explained to us. We were told we would have to go to the Interior Ministry’s main office for Krasnodar Territory.  Police Captain Denis Polyantsev assured us both it was no big deal. He just needed information from us. However, Polyantsev joked I could have been as famous as Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, meaning my amateur punk rock group Guerillas Gone Mental, which I founded in 2012. According to Polyantsev, it was the group that had provoked suspicions of ‘extremism,'” says Snopp.

guerillas gone mentalA photo of Kristina Snopp’s punk rock group Guerillas Gone Mental. Courtesy of the band’s VK page

The couple were delivered to the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”), whose officers asked about posts Snopp had published three years earlier on a social media page that had been deleted. Among the posts was a demotivator in which Putin was compared with Hitler, and parallels were drawn between Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Questions were also asked about post critical of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), for example, a demotivator in which an ROC priest blesses a missile dubbed Satan.

“I regarded these posts and cartoons more as political satire, the reaction of a concerned citizen to events in Russia. I had no intention of insulting anyone. Nevertheless, the Interior Ministry’s forensic examiners decided that by posting the cartoons I had incited hatred toward the president, Russian patriots, and Russian Orthodox Christians. I was shown a thick folder containing screenshots of my posts from various years and forensic findings I was not allowed to read,” says Snopp.

foto_s_cherepomA photo of Kristina Snopp holding what looks to be a skull. According to a police forensic examination, the skull was real. Photo courtesy of Ms. Snopp and OVD Info 

A photograph of Snopp holding a skull, taken in a cemetery during an amateur goth style photo shoot she published on her VK page, also caused suspicion among police officers. Polyantsev told Snopp forensic experts who examined the photos determined it was a real human skull. However, the online album containing the photos was captioned, and the captions clearly explained the skull was a fake. To be more precise, it was a piggy bank, purchased for 500 rubles at a souvenir stand in the railway station market in Tuapse.

Snopp says Polyantsev constantly put pressure on the couple during their questioning. He cited facts from her life and the lives of her relatives, suggesting he knew everything about them.

“Alas, my husband and I were so out of it that we went to the meeting without lawyers. We didn’t think about it from a legal viewpoint. We did not ask for copies of the summons, the forensic examinations or our own testimony. Basically, we had no written proof of what happened to us. However, the Russian police operate this way quite often, aware most people are illiterate when it comes to the law and lose their cool in these circumstances. Besides, we did not have the money to pay the fee the lawyer initially requested,” recounts Snopp.

Almost a month later, Polyantsev telephoned Snopp again. He informed her that the case file, containing her posts on VK, had been sent to Tuapse. She would need to go meet a police investigator on March 20, 2018, a meeting at which she would be given an official summons. Snopp realized if she signed for receipt of the summons, she would also be made to sign a form releasing her on her own recognizance and would probably be charged with several crimes, including “extremism.”

Snopp left Russia on March 18, the day of the last presidential election. Soon afterwards, her husband,  who had stayed on in Krasnodar to work, got a call from Polyantsev, who told him that if he did not tell investigators where his wife was, he would be accused of harboring a criminal. Several days later, Denis Snopp left Russia as well.

When they arrived in Georgia, Kristina and Denis Snopp applied for political asylum. They have had their second interview with immigration officials.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Hot Water

A Female Pensioner in the Nizhny Tagil Area Invited Neighbors to Tell a National TV Channel about Their Village’s Problems: Now She Will Be Tried for Holding an Unauthorized Protest Rally
Mezhdu strok
22 August 2018

A 63-year-old resident of the village of Pokrovskoye in the Gornouralsky Urban District warned neighbors a TV news crew would be coming to cover utilities problems in the village. She now faces a court hearing, charged with holding a public event without the consent of the authorities.

ms-72790-8Irina Kutsenok. Photo courtesy of Mezhdu strok

Due to a hot water outage in the village that had lasted two months, pensioner Irina Kutsenok turned to the news program Vesti Ural for help. When she found out a news crew would be coming to the village on August 1, she posted announcements about their visit in the entryways of residential buildings, asking villagers to come and speak to the news crew. Subsequently, the head of the village council filed a complaint against Kutsenok with the prosecutor’s office, accusing her of “organizing a public event  without filing a notification in the prescribed manner,” a violation of Article 20.2 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code.

“The water was turned off on June 1. The council said it would be off for a mere two weeks, but two months had passed since then. I then contacted Vesti Ural. They had helped us last year with garbage removal. After a segment aired on their program, the council started picking up the garbage. The people at Vesti Ural said they would send a news crew on August 1, and on July 31 I posted flyers in the entryways of residential buildings saying regional reporters were coming to cover the hot water outage so residents would know about it. At the bottom of the flyer, I wrote, ‘Residents should meet outside the club.’ But the editors at Vesti Ural told me the crew would not be coming, because the council had promised them that on August 3 our hot water would be turned on,” Kutsenok told Mezhdu strok.

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Irina Kutsenok’s flyer, announcing an upcoming visit by a news crew from the program Vesti Ural and asking village residents to gather outside the village club at twelve noon on August 1 to speak with the reporters about ongoing problems with the village’s hot water supply. Courtesy of Mezhdu strok

According to Kutsenok, the flyers were taken down almost immediately, on August 1. They were replaced with leaflets claiming water pressure tests would be conducted in the village on August 3.

Nevertheless, Kutsenok went to the village club on August 1 in case residents of Pokrovskoye had questions about the hot water outage. She was met there by Marina Selskaya, head of the Pokrovskoye village council, and Alla Semyonova, a member of the Gornouralsky City Duma.

“They yelled at me, accusing me of holding an unauthorized meeting. Later, it transpired Selskaya had also filed charges against me with the prosecutor’s office, accusing me of organizing and holding  a public event without notifying the council, of organizing protest rallies. Subsequently, the neighborhood beat cop came to my house and informed me I had to go to court. But I hadn’t made any speeches anywhere, nor had the TV reporters shown up. This means I am going to court for turning to the media, to a TV news program for help. What, now we don’t have the right to turn to the media, either, and we should be fined if we do turn to them? I just wanted to give our council a little nudge. I cannot get them to do anything about the water, preventive medical exams or metering devices for utilities. How much can a person take?” asked an outraged Kutsenok.

The magistrate of Sverdlovsk Region’s Suburban District will hear the charges against Kutsenok on August 30. Article 20.2 Part 2 of the Administrative Offenses Codes stipulates a fine of up to 30,000 rubles [approx. 380 euros] or up to fifty hours of community service.

UPDATE. After this article was published, the press service of the Sverdlovsk Region Prosecutor’s Office informed Mezhdu strok the charges against Kutsenok had not been filed with them, but with the police.

Thanks to OVD Info for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Mind What You Post Online, or You’ll Be Sent to the Loony Bin

watchingThey’re watching your every word.

Police Investigators Request Compulsory Psychiatry Treatment for Joke on VK Social Network
OVD Info
20 August 2018

Police investigators in Petersburg have asked a court to commit Eduard Nikitin, a disabled man charged with arousing enmity by posting a joke on the VK social network, to compulsory psychiatric treatment, writes Interfax news agency.

Petersburg’s Nevsky District Court is currently hearing the case in closed chambers.

The charges against Nikitin were filed in 2017. He was accused of violating Article 282 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code for posting a caricature and joke on his personal page on the VK (Vkontakte) social network in 2015.

“He was given a psychiatric evaluation. Police investigators have asked the court not to criminally prosecute him, but to have him committed to compulsory treatment,” Maxim Kamakin, the accused man’s attorney, explained to Interfax.

Forensic examiners discovered “extremism” in a joke in which a character doubts the positive changes after an election, as well as in the use of the word vatnik in a caricature.

“This is the first time I have heard of charges like this being filed for a joke, albeit not the most decent joke and a political one to boot,” Kamakin added.

Nikitin said he was summoned by police investigators as part of an enquiry in 2016. Subsequently, the investigators did not contact him for over a year. In late 2017, however, Nikitin received notification of criminal proceedings.

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

Everyones Wants to Like and Be Liked

Mail.ru Group Speaks Out against Punishments for Likes and Reposts
Company Proposes Changing the Law and Law Enforcement Practice
Olga Churakova and Yekaterina Bryzgalova
Vedomosti
August 6, 2018

Mail.ru Group не раз критиковала громкие законодательные инициативы, касающиеся интернетаMail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile law bills and laws affecting the internet. Photo by Yevgeny Yegorov. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Mail.ru Group, which owns the largest social networks in Russia, VK and Odnoklassniki [“Classmates”], has harshly condemned the practice of filing criminal charges against social media users for likes and reposts on social networks.

“Often the actions of law enforcement authorities have been clearly disproportionate to the potential danger, and their reaction to comments and memes in news feeds are inordinately severe,” reads a statement on the company’s website. “We are convinced laws and law enforcement practices must be changed. We believe it necessary to grant amnesty to people who have been wrongly convicted and decriminalize such cases in the future.”

Recently, the number of convictions for posts and reposts on social networks has reached a critical mass, explained a Mail.ru Group employee. Most of the convicitions are not only unjust but also absurd. He would not explain what specific corrections the company was going to propose.

“We believe current laws need to be adjusted, and we are going to make pertinent proposals,” VK’s press service told Vedomosti.

Mail.ru Group has repeatedly criticized high-profile laws and law bills affecting the internet. In 2013, for example, the company opposed an anti-piracy law. In 2015, it teamed up with Yandex to criticize the “right to be forgotten” law. In 2016, it opposed a law bill that proposed regulating messengers and search engines.  But punishing people for likes and reposts has become a political issue. Members of the opposition and social activists have often been the victims of Criminal Code Article 282, amended in 2014 to allow prosecution of people for incitment to hatred or enmity while using the internet.

Communist Party MP Sergei Shargunov addressed the problem during the President’s Direct Line in June of this year.

“If Article 282 were taken literally, certain zealots would have to convict Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Mayakovsky, and have their works removed,” he said.

Putin agreed it was wrong to reduce such cases to absurdity. Subsequently, he tasked the Russian People’s Front (ONF) and the Prosecutor General’s Office with analyzing how the notions of “extremist community” and “extremist crime” were employed practically in law enforcement.

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“Prosecutions for Incitement to Enmity (Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1) in Russia. Numbers of People Convicted, 2009–2017. Source: Trials Department, Russian Supreme Court.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

An Agenda for the Autumn
On June 25, Shargunov and Alexei Zhuravlyov, leader of the Rodina [“Motherland”] party, tabled draft amendments in the Duma that would decriminalize “extremist” likes and reposts. The MPs proposed transferring the violation described in Criminal Code Article 282 Part 1 to the Administrative Offenses Code, where infractions would be punishable by a fine of up to 20,000 rubles or 15 days in jail, while leaving only Part 2 of Article 282 in the Criminal Code. Part 2 stipulates a punishment of up to six years in prison for the same actions when they are committed with violence, by a public official or by an organized group. The government, the Supreme Court, and the State Duma’s legal department gave the draft amendments negative reviews, pointing out that the grounds for adopting them were insufficient. A spokesman for Pavel Krasheninnikov, chair of the Duma’s Committee on Legislation, informed us the committee would start working on the amendments when MPs returned from summer recess.

The ONF, which held a meeting of experts in July, has begun drafting a report for the president. The legal community, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Supreme Court must send their proposals to the Kremlin’s control directorate before September 15.

Leonid Levin, chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, agreed there was a problem.

“The law is repressive, and there is no misdemeanor offense, although the Supreme Court issued an opinion that different cases should not be treated identically,” he said.

While there has been no lack of proposals, no one is in a hurry to abolish the law completely. A source in the Kremlin said dissemination of prohibited information should be punished. But a way of relaxing the law must be devised and, most important, a means of avoiding random convictions, he added.

A Demand for Liberalization
Recently, VK had been under pressure from the public due to the huge number of criminal prosecutions for posting pictures and reposts, said Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group. He argued the statement issued by Mail.ru Group was an attempt to defend the company’s reputation. According to the so-called Yarovaya package of amendments and laws, since January 1, 2018, VK has been obliged to provide law enforcement agencies with information about its users upon request, but the question of the legality of providing information having to do with people’s private lives remains open, since under Russian law a court order is required for this, Chikov noted.

Political scientist Abbas Gallyamov argued political decentralization and moderate opposition were now fashionable.

“Even the most cautious players sense the dictates of the age and have been trying to expand the space of freedom. Mail.ru Group is trying to be trendy,” he said.

Gallyamov predicted that, as the regime’s popularity ratings decline, the screws would be loosened, and the number of people advocating liberalization would grow.

Part of the political elite realizes many things have gone askew, agreed political scientist Alexander Kynev. A number of people hoped the circumstances could be exploited to push the idea of moderate liberalization. This could be a way of showing the regime was ready to talk, he argued.

“A lot will depend on what the autumn brings, on the results of regional elections. Now it would appear to be a topic that is up for discussion, but there are no guarantees. There are people in the government interested in having the topic discussed, but this doesn’t mean a decision has been taken,” Kynev said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“A Truly Great Competition”: Yegor Yekimov Jailed in Petersburg for Picketing in Solidarity with Oleg Sentsov

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St. Petersburg Group for Assistance to Detainees
Facebook
July 15, 2018

On Saturday, Yegor Yekimov was detained in the Petersburg 2018 FIFA World Cup Fan Zone for holding a solo picket in solidarity with Oleg Sentsov and handing out leaflets.

The activist spent the night at the 71st Police Precinct.

Today, the Petrograd District Court sentenced him to five days in jail.

Mr. Yekimov has an illness that requires constant maintenance therapy. He must strictly avoid catching any infection whatsoever.

This fact, however, did not stop Judge Irina Grechishko, who sentenced Mr. Yekimov to jail.

Additionally, Mr. Yekimov is a voting member of an election commission, and the court had no right to try him without authorization from a prosecutor.

Mr. Yekimov has been taken to the detention facility on Zakharyevskaya Street in central Petersburg. Attorney Daniil Semyonov will file an appeal of the verdict tomorrow.

Translated by the Russian Reader

#SaveSentsov

Patriots

pyotr tolstoy's daughter“While Pyotr Tolstoy, deputy speaker of the State Duma, battles the treacherous West and discusses labeling journalists ‘foreign agents,’ his daughter is on vacation in Crimea and Suzdal. (In fact, she is in Rome.)” Miracles of OSINT, July 5, 2018

__________________________________

Russian Duma Committee OKs Legislation to Label Individual Journalists “Foreign Agents”
Committee to Protect Journalists
July 3, 2018

The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Russian authorities to refrain from labeling individual bloggers and journalists as foreign agents. The State Duma’s information and communication committee today approved legislation that would allow authorities to label private persons as foreign agents if they work for organizations the Justice Ministry labels as foreign agents or receive funding for producing content for these organizations, according to media reports.

The proposed legislation would require individuals to go through annual audit, submit a bi-annual report on their work activities, and put a “foreign agent” label on all produced content, according to the reports.

“Labeling journalists, including bloggers, as foreign agents is the latest step in the Russian authorities’ systematic policy towards obstructing the free flow of news,” said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia research associate, Gulnoza Said. “We call on Russian authorities to reverse course and allow its citizens to receive information and opinion from a wide range of sources.”

The Duma, the lower house of parliament, initially passed a related bill in January. The parliament’s upper house, the Federation Council, is yet to vote on the legislation, which also requires presidential approval before becoming law.

The information and communication committee’s chair, Leonid Levin, who co-authored the latest proposals, told the state news agency Interfax that the Foreign Ministry and State Prosecutor’s office, two separate entities, would be responsible for labeling private persons as foreign agents “for additional protection of individuals from accidental decisions” from the Justice Ministry. Those bloggers who “simply repost information of foreign agents” will not “suffer,” Levin said. The Justice Ministry will still determine which groups fall into the category of foreign agent.

The latest legislation also includes provisions that would prevent websites or other media being blocked without a court ruling, according to news reports.

Today’s action came after the Kremlin-funded television station RT, formerly Russia Today, said in November that it had complied with a U.S. Justice Department order to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

The Justice Ministry has already used the newly expanded laws to designate nine U.S.-funded news outlets, including the U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), as foreign agents, according to reports.