All It Takes

As a “foreign agent,” the liberal Russian current affairs website Republic has to attach this disclaimer to every article it posts online. Screenshot by the Russian Reader

Justice Ministry Explains It Designated Republic a ‘Foreign Agent’ Because Foreign Embassies Subscribed to the Publication • Novaya Gazeta • 20 January 2022

The Russian Justice Ministry has explained that it placed the news and commentary website Republic on its register of media “foreign agents” because foreign embassies and Russian branches of foreign organizations had paid for subscriptions to the publication’s paywalled articles. The news was broken by Republic editor-in-chief Dmitry Kolezev on his Telegram channel.

The ministry claims that the publication received funds from the “Embassy of the Swiss Conference” [sic], as well as from the foreign missions of Finland, France, Lithuania and Kazakhstan in Russia. In addition, according to the excerpted statement, the Wall Street Journal, the Russian office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, and the Kazakh firm Eurasia Metals Company had transferred money to Republic‘s account.

“As we guessed, the formal reason was that foreign legal entities such as the embassies of France and Kazakhstan, the Wall Street Journal, etc., had paid for subscriptions in the amount of 14,800 rubles [approx. 170 euros] per year. Over two years, the Justice Ministry found a total of 178,500 rubles [approx. 2,000 euros] worth of such ‘foreign financing’ — we calculated that it was about 0.18% of our overall turnover,” Kolezev wrote. 

On 15 October 2021, the Justice Ministry added Moscow Digital Media (Republic) to its register of Russian media outlets functioning as “foreign agents.” Kolezev told Novaya, then, that Republic was funded exclusively by subscribers, and that its founding organization did not have any sources of external financing.

Full disclosure: I’ve subscribed to Republic for several years running. And, on many occasions, I have translated and published their articles here, especially ones by their perpetually clear-eyed and sardonic editor and commentator Ivan Davydov. I translated this article too. If you want this “media outlet functioning as a foreign agent” to keep on chugging, share my posts on social media and make a donation via PayPal or Ko-Fi. ||| TRR

The Siege

Monument to workers and staff at the Ivan Fyodorov printing plant in Leningrad who gave their lives during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad by the Nazis. Photo by Alexey Chernov

Hello, dear friend!

You may have already run into problems when you tried to visit the OVD Info website, or seen disturbing news headlines about our project. We would lie to ell you what we know about the problem at the current moment.

What happened?

On Saturday morning, our website was blocked by decision of the Lukhovitsy City Court. Later, Roskomnadzor sent a request to social networks to block our accounts. We have not received any official notification.

Later, comments made by a Roskomnadzor official to the media made us aware of the reason Roskomnadzor had ordered our website blocked, and had also sent a request to the administrators of social networks to block our accounts.

It follows from the Roskomnadzor official’s statement that our site has been placed on the registry of sites featuring prohibited information, although it is not on the list yet. It does NOT FOLLOW from this same statement that our project has been deemed “extremist” or “terrorist,” nor does it follow from the court ruling. At most, some of our publications have been deemed prohibited matter. We do not yet know which publications these are.

We still have not received any official notification. Grigory Okhotin, OVD Info co-founder and the website’s proprietor, was not informed about the investigation, the court hearing, or the blocking of the site, although his lawyer responded on December 14 to a summons by traveling to the Lukhovitsy prosecutor’s office, which filed the lawsuit, where he tried to obtain information about the details of the complaint.

We regard this as a continuation of the Russian state’s attack on civil society. There is nothing surprising in the fact that OVD Info has now been targeted, since our project is probably the largest human rights project in Russia. In addition, OVD Info is the driving force behind the campaign to abolish the law on “foreign agents.” After our petition calling on the authorities to abolish the law went public, we were placed on the list of “foreign agents”; after a bill that would abolish the law was submitted to the State Duma, our website was blocked. We can conclude that this is how the authorities consult with the professional human rights community.

We cannot say that we did not anticipate this attack. After the attack on the Memorial Human Rights Center and the lodging of similar claims against it, we realized that we would be next. However, unlike the Memorial case, where formal legal procedures have been followed, at least, our website was blocked in violation of all possible norms.

What’s next?

  1. We will seek to clarify the situation and defend ourselves in a legal manner. Naturally, we do not promote or condone terrorism or extremism. OVD Info is an independent human rights media project and we are confident that all our information is reliable and does not violate laws. We have always operate and will continue to operate in compliance with the law.
  2. We will continue our work. You can still read us on social networks. Even if all our social networks are blocked, we will still provide legal assistance to people who are persecuted for political reasons, receive calls and messages via our bot, and provide legal advice. And we will find a way to convey necessary and important information to you.
  3. We are still counting on your help. The project has existed for over ten years only thanks to public support. No court and no prosecutor’s office can block the help of hundreds of thousands of people. For now, it’s still safe to support us in any way possible. You can subscribe to our social media accounts to follow the news, or you can make a small donation, preferably in cryptocurrency. If something changes and a method of support becomes unsafe, we will immediately tell you about it.

We hope that we will be able to gladden you with good news this year! Thank you for staying with us!

Yours as always,

Grigory Okhotin and the OVD Info team

The indepedent human rights media project OVD Info
https://donate.ovdinfo.orgdonate@ovdinfo.org 

You received this letter because you support OVD Info.

 On 29 September 2021, the Russia Justice Ministry placed OVD Info on its “registry of unregistered public associations performing the functions of a foreign agent.” We include this disclaimer, among other things, so that your donations do not go towards paying fines for its absence.

But you can help us get rid of it.

Source: OVD Info email newsletter, 25 December 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader


Five hundred years ago, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in The Prince that it is best for a ruler to be both loved and feared, but ‘it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both’. The Kremlin seems to share this belief. Since the government’s economic policy is aimed at maintaining ‘stable stagnation’ rather than economic growth, it won’t be able to buy the population’s complacency. On the other hand, although the government’s propaganda is still working, its long-term performance is questionable. The share of Russians who obtain information through television has decreased by 25% in the seven years since March 2014. At the same time, citizens’ trust in information from social media and online publications is growing. Against this backdrop, along with the consolidation of online censorship, the politics of fear is becoming an increasingly attractive tool for controlling public sentiment.

Lauren Young, a professor at the University of California, Davis, demonstrated in her recent study how repression works and what dividends a dictator can reap from it. Citizens are more likely to feel fear when witnessing violence used by the authorities. Fear, in turn, leads to pessimism about the prospects for collective action (‘no one will take to the streets, and I won’t either’) and a lower willingness to take risks. All of this diminishes citizens’ desire to express disloyalty to the authorities. In the case of Russia, the politics of fear is also amplified by the fact that many Russians depend on payments from the state budget. As studies show, state-sector professionals, all other things being equal, are less likely to protest and are also less supportive of democracy.

Yes, repressions undermine the legitimacy of state institutions and can even, albeit with very low probability, lead to the opposite effect when people lose patience and pour into the streets. But the year 2021 showed that the Russian regime will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo.

Source: Mikhail Turchenko, “One year in the life of a consolidated personalist dictatorship,” Riddle, 20 December 2021

Like Share Fine Jail

GUIDE

How do I avoid going to jail for a repost?

1. Be cautious about what you say

When making statements about someone else’s ethnicity, race, religion, or gender, you need to adhere to basic norms of politeness.

2. Maintain your privacy

People are held accountable only for public statements, so you need to consciously chose your status when posting on social networks. There are probably entries that only your own friends, people you trust, but not outsiders should see.

3. Check the register of extremist materials

The list of extremist materials is available on the Justice Ministry’s website.

4. If you don’t approve of the content of the post you are sharing, then say it

You can write, for example, “I disagree with this material and voice my sincere indignation.”

5. Take into account the features of the social network where you publish information

Anyone can look at information that is in the public domain. Keep this in mind when you post something on your page.

What should I do if I’m targeted in a criminal investigation?

1. Say nothing

A preliminary investigation on “extremism” charges does not differ from other criminal cases in the way it unfolds and is regulated by the Criminal Procedure Code. If you are implicated in such a case, you must be notified in writing about it.

2. Be prepared for a police search

A search of your home or office is also possible, during which the “instruments of the crime” — computers and electronic devices — can be confiscated from you.

3. Get a lawyer

The presence of a lawyer is highly desirable during all criminal investigative procedures.

4. Do your own due diligence

The defense’s goal in any trial is to break down the arguments of the prosecution, which tries to prove the defendant’s guilt.

5. Order an alternative expert examination without waiting for the court to order one

Unfortunately, it is impossible to guarantee that it will be included in the case file. The decision on this is made by the judge, who is guided by their own considerations. Anyone can find information in the public domain. Keep this in mind when you post something on your page.

You’ve been found guilty. Now what?

1. Your devices will be destroyed

If the court finds you guilty of extremism, you face not only punishment, but also an order to destroy the “instruments of the crime.”

2. You will lose your savings and the ability to receive money through a bank

A serious consequence of extremism charges and convictions is inclusion in the the so-called Rosfinmonitoring list.

3. To lose your livelihood it is enough to be named a suspect in a case

If you are declared a suspect in a case, your name is simply published within a few days on Rosfinmonitoring’s official website.

4. You are not notified when you are put on the list

You just won’t be able to withdraw money from an ATM one day.

5. Not only bank accounts are blocked, but also access to electronic payment systems

You might not be able to access Yandex Money and Kiwi, for example.

Valeria Parusnaya, Like Share Fine Jail (Mediazona, 2021)

Our book is a collection of stories of Russians who have faced prosecution for statements they made on social networks. There are more and more guilty verdicts for posts, reposts and likes every year.

The Russian internet is under strict state control, as evidenced by the entry into force of laws on the “sovereign internet,” “fake news,” and “disrespect for the authorities”, which give greater leeway to the authorities in holding people criminally liable for their opinions.

The book consists of news stories, articles and specific cases published by Mediazona, along with commentary by IT lawyers, but with no personal opinions or value judgments on the part of the editors. It is meant for those who want to know what all of us can face and how to avoid it.

Source: likesrok.ru.tilda.ws. The 224-page book, in Russian, can be downloaded in four different electronic formats on Ridero, where you’ll be asked to register with an email address and social media ID before downloading. Translated by the Russian Reader

Bad List Updates

Marta Hillers’s Book A Woman in Berlin Placed on List of Extremist Materials
Wonderzine
November 23, 2021

Sota reports that the Russian Justice Ministry has placed A Woman in Berlin, a book by Marta Hillers, on its list of extremist materials. In the book, the writer recounts the end of World War II and the mass rapes of German women by Soviet soldiers. The Abakan City Court in the Republic of Khakassia had petitioned to have the book placed on the register.

Sota also draws attention to the fact that in 2008 the book was adapted for the screen. The film is not mentioned in the list of extremist materials.

“Kill the Beggars,” a song by the group Pornofilmy, and eight other materials were also placed on the register. The list was published by a Telegram channel about updates to the list of extremist materials [and “extremists” and “terrorists”], maintained by the programmer Ivan Shukshin.

Thanks to Anna Romashchenko for the heads-up. Image courtesy of Kinopoisk. Translated by the Russian Reader

“Kill the Beggars!”

Come on!

Progress and efficiency have triumphed. And how!
Today we have a neutron bomb
We’ll destroy our surplus enemies quickly
Without touching their property, we’ll do everything cleanly

Well, it didn’t come in handy in the war
It will come in handy at home — both for you and for me

Kill the poor!
Exterminate, destroy them!
Chew them up, crush them! Come on!
They’re not afraid to die
The beggars will be only too glad
Every beggar goes to heaven
Kill the beggars!

Come on!

The sun laughs in gasoline puddles
We don’t need a war tax anymore
The slums are on fire, burning perfectly
And a million unemployed people have just disappeared

Well, look: the country is rising from its knees
Unemployment is defeated

Kill the poor!
Exterminate, destroy them!
Chew them up, crush them! Come on!
They’re not afraid to die
The beggars will be only too glad
Every beggar goes to heaven
Kill the beggars!

Come on!
Fucking do it!

Champagne splashes, joy and pride
Crime is falling. Breathe freely!
Smiles frozen on the faces of the fortunate
And Putin said that we have won

Let’s get dressed up! Shout “Hurrah!”
We’ll dance until morning

Kill the poor!
Exterminate, destroy them!
Chew them up, crush them! Come on!
They’re not afraid to die
The beggars will be only too glad
Every beggar goes to heaven
Kill the beggars!

Come on!
Come on!
Come on!
Kill the beggars!

Source: AZ. Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonich: and (or)

THIS MESSAGE (CONTENT) HAS BEEN CREATED AND (OR) DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET FUNCTIONING AS A FOREIGN AGENT AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY FUNCTIONING AS A FOREIGN AGENT.

and (or)
a booklet by Darya Apahonchich
Foreignlandia, 2021

I add THIS thirty-one-word message, given to me by the Russian Justice Ministry, to all my social media posts, because now I am not a person, but a “media foreign agent,” which is something like a biased foreign newspaper, radio station or TV channel.

“Foreign Agent”

Over the last six months, I have been able to decipher this MESSAGE and the status of “foreign agent,” with which dozens of human rights organizations, media outlets and just plain people (journalists and activists) have to live. Translated from Justice Ministry-speak, it means: “Shut up.”

“Go on, eat these letters”

What is it like? It’s like being force-fed porridge. Only it’s not porridge, but words. And it’s not Mom feeding you, but the Justice Ministry. And you are not you, but (CONTENT) for experiments in state violence.

“Beware of the female agent!”

It’s not just literal garbage. It’s a toxic label that makes it difficult to work, paralyzing you. It’s enough to push everything that HAS BEEN CREATED behind a long verbal fence and distance me and my work from my audience.

I became a foreign agent on the afternoon of December 28, as I was sitting at home with two children after having covid, dazed from the isolation. My son was “hatching” dinosaur larvae. The larvae were beans, and they were hatched mainly in my sock. So, with a sock full of beans, I gave dozens of interviews. In the last six months, there have been more interviews, more beans, AND more agents. I don’t even know what the moral of this story is.

“Newspaper ≠ woman”

At some point I even wrote a fairy tale for the Justice Ministry. It was quite boring, so I abandoned it. But one of the jokes in it was funny. I asked the Justice Ministry, “How do you know, Justice Ministry, whether you’re dealing with a woman (OR) a newspaper?”

Then I went into a long comparison of women and newspapers. I explained where you could find the imprints and headlines in newspapers and women, where you could find their darkest recesses and traces of proofreading. Newspapers were most often regarded as things to be consumed, I wrote, and alas, so were women. Although it did happen that women were considered individuals, this view was not yet widely DISSEMINATED.

“Every part of me is my face. Front-page story. Free Yulia Tsvetkova!”

Look, Justice Ministry, this is a front-page story about Yulia Tsvetkova. You can call her BY A FOREIGN word, or you can use a Russian word, but you know, Justice Ministry, it doesn’t make a woman a newspaper.

I counted how many words I still have to illustrate — I don’t think I can come up with that many jokes. But I can’t afford to give up: it would be a shame not to take the piss out of the Russian Federation. Consider this booklet of mine a form of therapy, a remedy for the Russian authorities. I have often been asked why there are so few foreign agents. And why did they pick me? I think this is due to the fact that the state is still lazy. It takes a lot of effort to engage in large-scale crackdowns, but in this case you take five people and have a little fun with them. You expend the energy you would in a local warlet, but the effect is the same as in a MASSive war. Basically, I’m a figure of a little fun. (While I was writing this text, more foreign MEDIA agents were added to the list.)

“Foreign media reports about the Russian language! Give us more stories about grammatical cases! Everybody’s crazy about grammatical cases!”

I have to say that I haven’t conceived a passion for journalism over the last six months. I wonder how it’s possible to be a mass media OUTLET without an education in journalism and journalistic ambitions. The only things I’ve ever talked about on a massive scale are grammatical cases and feminitives.

The idea of “foreign agents” smacks of crass objectification. The authorities see everything — people, non-governmental organizations, media, activists — as rebellious things, as broken robotic slaves. And what do you do with a machine that is malFUNCTIONING? Reduced to a function, but opposed to it, a thing like this is tagged AS A fuck-up and failure that can now be scrapped.

“Not a foreign land for anyone.”

Once every three months I fill out a report for the Justice Ministry. They ask me in the interests of which FOREIGN state did I do what I did? You know, Justice Ministry, everything I do, I do in the hope that one day there will be no states and borders, that there will be only free people and free lands.

It’s a pity that I can’t be labeled a pan-national no-government AGENT. It would suit me better.

“In hell, Justice Ministry employees endlessly write, ‘THIS MESSAGE…'”

I’ve been swimming in the sea of the Russian language my whole life. AND even though I sometimes thought about leaving, I could never imagine that I’d be able to leave Russia in a matter of two days. But the cops who came with guys from the Emergency Situations Ministry to cut out my door open with an angle grinder and search my flat taught me to be decisive. By the way, hello, you guys! Burn in hell!

“What’s this? And this? I don’t recognize this either. It’s something incomprehensible.”

I walked around the house, which had been turned into a big lump of things by the search, wondering whether to take this (OR) that. I took almost nothing.

“Me and the kids on the road.”

I left the country, taking the children, several books, Russian grammar and fear with me. With this kind of baggage, I’m considered A RUSSIAN national in Foreignlandia, which makes  complete sense.

Living in a world where you have only your flesh and bones, but the state claims to see you as a LEGAL entity, is like being on a virtual reality ride. Only everyone has the special glasses, and you don’t.

“Foreign mass (beauty) outlet.”

Hey, newspaper woman, what’s wrong with your face? Are you an ENTITY?

“Russia . . . functioning as a foreign agent.”

When meeting new people, I take the most time explaining this whole absurd story. It’s a big chunk of time, but I still append these thirty-one words to every post and send reports to the Justice Ministry. Why do I do this? I think it’s my umbilical cord. My country won’t say goodbye to an agent fulfilling the demands of the authorities, and Agent Apahonchich still has a FUNCTIONING hope of returning home.

“Words, words, words, words, words, words.”

What matters now is not to ASsume the functions of the state by engaging in self-censorship and thus fueling state paranoia, to remember that waves of rhetoric are the loudest and fastest. They will subside, and we will go on living.

So I’m sitting on the shore of A FOREIGN language, learning it as if I were combing a field of grass, but I remember that my soul also looks uncombed to the foreign eye. I’m growing my garden and taking care of the dinosaur larvae—my harvest is good!

 

Thanks for walking this way with me. Take care of your own gardens and seas. Warm greetings from your female agentka, whom the sexist Justice Ministry takes for a male AGENT.

________________

Originally published by Darya Apahonchich on her Facebook page on 30 July 2021. Translated, from the Russian, and with the author’s permission, by Thomas H. Campbell

Metamorphosis

The incomparable Valery Dymshits writes:

Yesterday at dinner my son Senya said: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a foreign agent.”

“When Friday comes … identify foreign agents.” Meme courtesy of Andrei Pivovarov

Andrei Pivovarov
Facebook
October 8, 2021

⚡️The Justice Ministry has placed 9 more journalists and 3 companies on its  register of “foreign media agents,” including Bellingcat, which investigated Navalny’s poisoning, the founder of the Center for the Protection of Media Rights, a TV Rain journalist, and a BBC journalist.

The list now includes:
🔸Tatyana Voltskaya, Radio Svoboda
🔸Daniil Sotnikov, TV Rain
🔸Katerina Klepikovskaya, Sever.Realii
🔸Аndrei Zakharov, BBC
🔸Galina Arapova, director of the Center for the Protection of Media Rights
🔸Roman Perl, Current Time
🔸Elizaveta Surnacheva, Proekt
🔸Elena Solovieva, Sever.Realii
🔸Eugene Simonov, international coordinator of the Rivers Without Borders Coalition
🔹M.News World
🔹Bellingcat
🔹LLC “МЕМО”(the founding company of Caucasian Knot)

We were happy for the journalists at Novaya Gazeta, but we shouldn’t overdo it, is the message, apparently.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Eternal summer.” 8 October 2015, Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

Russia’s total excess death toll since the beginning of the pandemic until the end of August, the most recent available data, stands at 660,000 — one of the highest rates in the world both in absolute terms and on a per capita basis.

OVD Info Named “Foreign Agent”

The amazing and indispensable OVD Info has been placed by the Russian Justice Ministry on its list of “foreign agents.” OVD Info broke the news in this email to its supporters, sent an hour or so ago, as translated by me.

“This message (content) was created and (or) distributed by non-commercial organizations and/or mass media outlets demanding the total repeal of the law on foreign agents.”

We have disturbing news. Today, the Russian Justice Ministry has placed OVD Info on its “register of unregistered public associations performing the functions of a foreign agent.”

There’s nothing terrible about this, but there’s nothing good about it either.

The attack on our project hasn’t taken us by surprise: for almost ten years we have been writing about politically motivated persecution every day, and it is difficult to surprise us, especially this year. We have seen what the weather is like outside the window: independent media and journalists have been labeled “foreign agents” one after another, and there are few human rights projects in Russia that have not yet received the status of “foreign agent.”

“Foreign agent” status does not impose any additional risks on you. Nothing changes for you: it is safe to support us and other initiatives identified as “foreign agents.”

Are we really someone’s agents?

OVD Info has been and always will be an independent project. This means that we do not depend on any other organizations, be they political movements or international foundations. We do not have major donors either: we are supported by thousands and tens of thousands of small donations, most of which do not exceed 500 rubles [less than six euros].

We are not agents: we don’t do anyone else’s work or do anyone else’s bidding, especially those in foreign countries. We are not foreigners. On the contrary, we are probably the most popular human rights project in Russia. The only thing that OVD Info depends on are the hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens who support us with donations, reposts, volunteering and kind words.

OVD Info appeared on the map in December 2011 as a personal initiative and a response to what was happening in police departments to people detained at protest rallies, and it operated exclusively on a volunteer basis for several years. To this day, OVD Info has remained an initiative powered a huge community of caring people.

To label us “foreign agents” means devaluing ten years of work by a huge number of people — the readers, volunteers, donors, and lawyers who have created this project along with us.

Why is this happening?

The Russian authorities apparently consider our project hostile to them, but we are not fighting the authorities or fighting to take power. We protect the right of Russian citizens to assemble freely, and we assist everyone whose right to assemble freely has been violated. The reasons for protest rallies and the political views of their participants don’t matter to us. We defend everyone who faces a violation of their right to public protest, regardless of the issues they raise and the demands they make. We defend environmental activists, defenders of squares and parks, opponents of the residential housing renovation program and the Plato road tolls system, leftists and rightists, opposition activists and pro-government activists, Navalny supporters and Communist Party supporters, independent journalists and journalists from Russia Today. There are no shades of gray when it comes to human rights protection, there are no good and bad people: there are only people whose rights have been violated.

And we are certain that no country is capable of stable growth if it does not protect the rights of its citizens. The campaign launched by the authorities against civic groups and the media is disastrous not only for Russian civil society, but also for the country itself.

What happens next?

1. We will go on working as we always have. Perhaps, due to the new circumstances, things will be more difficult for us, but society’s need for what we do has not gone away: freedom of information still must be protected, and individuals must still not be left to face the system alone. In order for us to do this, we will have to put a banner on the top of our website notifying readers that we have been placed on the register of “foreign agents.”

2. We will legally challenge our project’s inclusion on the register of “foreign agents.” We have little hope of a quick victory in the Russian courts, but we believe that sooner or later justice will prevail in the European Court of Human Rights.

3. We call for solidarity with all the initiatives, media outlets and journalists who have been subjected to this same attack in recent months. We are not asking you to support us: thanks to you, we have sufficiently robust resources. But projects that don’t have your support are in particularly dire need of it.

Therefore, we ask you to support with a donation any of the projects that work with us side by side, and that you not be afraid to do it.

We will more and more zealously demand the repeal of the law on “foreign agents” and urge you to join this campaign as well: to begin with, please sign our petition. It is also important to support those who face government pressure. On the website Solidarity.Support, you can choose who you want to support with your rubles: so far, “foreign agent” status does not entail any additional risks for donors and beneficiaries.

Despite the fact that there is no direct threat to us right now, we take what is happening as seriously as possible. The “foreign agent” law enables the authorities to first throw a lasso around any objectionable initiative, and then arbitrarily tighten it. Since 2012, when the first version of the “foreign agent” law was adopted, the requirements for organizations placed on this register have been constantly expanding, while their opportunities for doing their work have been narrowing. In fact, any “foreign agent” can be forcibly liquidated at any time, and its leaders can be arrested.

“Foreign agent” status is not a “seal of approval.” It is a black mark. It not only complicates the life of the “foreign agent,” but divides everyone into “friends” and “strangers” via the most opaque decision-making process. By forcing us to identify ourselves as a “foreign agent,” we are forced to deceive everyone who trusts us, and you are forced to divide the world into black and white. But there are no “friends” or “strangers.”

Don’t forget this, don’t be afraid of anything and stay on our side! You and your trust are the most valuable thing we have.

We are always on your side,
The OVD Info team

Source: OVD Info email newsletter, 29 September 2021. Translated by the Russian Reader

Important Stories

A screen shot of the front page of the IStories website

Telegram banned Roman Anin’s account the day before journalist was labeled “foreign agent media outlet”
Maria Efimova
Novaya Gazeta
August 20, 2021

Telegram has banned the account of Roman Anin,* editor-in-chief of iStories [in Russian, Vazhnye istorii — “Important Stories”].* He reported the incident to Novaya Gazeta himself.

“I couldn’t log in to Telegram yesterday, because my account was deleted, and it says in English that my account is banned. I haven’t been able to restore it yet,” Anin said.

Anin doesn’t know why his account was deleted. Although he has contacted the messenger service’s support team, they have not replied.

Today, the Russian Justice Ministry placed iStories, Anin and several of the publication’s journalists on its register of “foreign agent media outlets.” TV Rain* and the journalist Stepan Petrov* were also added to the list.

Earlier this week, iStories journalists Irina Dolinina* and Alesya Marokhovskaya* reported that persons unknown had mounted a spam attack on their phone numbers. “SMS messages from shops, banks and other places with different codes [were] being sent non-stop,” Dolinina said, also complaining about the incessant “dead calls.” Before that, persons unknown tried to hack and organize a spam attack on the phone of Irina Pankratova, a journalist with The Bell.

Late last year, after iStories published an investigative report about businessman Kirill Shamalov, Vladimir Putin’s [former son-in-law], there were attempts to hack the Telegram accounts of Anin and the other authors of the report. There were attempts to hack their Facebook accounts as well.

* Placed by the Russian Justice Ministry on its register of mass media outlets functioning as foreign agents.

Translated by the Russian Reader. As I just discovered, you can easily support iStories by going to the donations page on their website. I was able to donate 3,000 rubles (approx. 35 euros) in a matter of seconds. And you can read some of their investigative reports in English while you’re at it.

“On the evening of April 9, 2021, the FSB searched the home of iStories editor-in-chief Roman Anin. The search lasted almost seven hours. At the same time, a search was also carried out in the publication’s editorial offices.”

What You Have to Do to Be a “Foreign Agent” in Russia

Darya Apahonchich. The inscription reads: “Not only a body, but also a person.” Courtesy of Kommersant via Ms. Apahonchich’s Facebook page

Аn “agent” due to wages: foreign agent status threatens teachers
Oleg Dilimbetov and Marina Litvinova
Kommersant
April 7, 2021

A job at a foreign institute of higher education or a salary from a foreign employer can be grounds for obtaining the status of a so-called foreign agent. This transpired during the the hearing of a lawsuit brought against the Justice Ministry by Petersburg teacher and activist Darya Apahonchich. She had requested that the ministry specify the reasons it had forcibly registered her as a “private individual acting as a foreign mass media outlet functioning as a foreign agent.” The ministry provided the court with written proof of her employment at a French college [in Petersburg] and the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The ministry confirmed that the “foreign funding” received by a potential “foreign agent” does not necessarily have to have anything to do with subsequent “dissemination of information” or “political activity.”

Ms. Apahonchich was placed on the register of so-called individual media foreign agents on December 28, 2020, along with three journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov. At the time, the Justice Ministry did not explain what specific reasons had caused them to assign her this status. In March, Ms. Apahonchich filed a lawsuit in Petersburg’s Lenin District Court, claiming that the obligations imposed on her by the Justice Ministry due to the new status violated her rights under the Russian Constitution and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). On April 5, during a preliminary hearing of the lawsuit, Ms. Apahonchich was informed of the Justice Ministry’s objections to her claims and finally learned the reasons she had been entered into the register.

The ministry told the court that the woman [sic] had received foreign money transfers from Sweden, Germany, France and Finland. As Ms. Apahonchich explained, these were official fees for participation in festivals and exhibitions and her work as a teacher.

Thus, she was paid 35 thousand rubles by the Finnish Museum of Photography.  She received Another 112 thousand rubles from the French college [in Petersburg], where she taught Russian. She received about 60 thousand rubles from friends via the PayPal transfer system, and these transfers were expedited by Deutsche Bank (Germany). [That is, Ms. Apahonchich had received the fantastic sum of approximately 2,220 euros at current exchange rates — TRR.] In addition, Ms. Apahonchich was imputed with having received bank transfers from her employer, the Russian branch of the International Red Cross. The Justice Ministry stated that the source of these funds was Norway, and the intermediary was Sweden. The activist herself claims that she performed work at the Red Cross under a [Russian] presidential grant.

As for “dissemination of information,” the Justice Ministry pointed out that Ms. Apahonchich had reposted on social networks the article “Feminist Fairy Tales: Princesses Fighting the Patriarchy,” published by Radio Liberty (which has been deemed a so-called foreign agent media outlet by the Russian authorities). The ministry also told the court about the YouTube channel “Feminists Explain,” where Ms. Apahonchich has discussed the topic of gender equality, and her article about domestic violence, published on the website Colta.ru. In addition, the woman [sic] had appealed on social networks for solidarity with the defendants in the case of the Network (deemed a terrorist organization in the Russian Federation and banned) and LGBT activist Yulia Tsvetkova.

“The list of my sins is long but honorable: I taught Russian as a foreign language, participated in international festivals, and voiced solidarity with  the regime’s victims. Yes, I also accepted financial assistance from friends from abroad,” Ms. Apahonchich said when asked to comment on the Justice Ministry’s position. “It is clear that they brought the house down on me for solidarity: for solidarity pickets, for public discussions with friends. The situation was not what it is now: everyone seems to have gone off the rails. We’re in trouble, we need help.”

Her lawyer Alexander Peredruk noted that the Justice Ministry had not even tried to prove to the court that there was a connection between the foreign funds received by his client and her activism.

“Based on the Justice Ministry’s position, if you publish something on social networks, it does not matter whether you receive foreign funds directly or indirectly. And it is very difficult to independently monitor the matter: when collaborating with an LLC, you cannot know for certain whether it receives foreign money,” the lawyer said. “The Justice Ministry argues that the separately existing evidence of receiving funds from abroad and publishing on social networks is enough. They have not tried to establish a direct connection between them.”

The Justice Ministry told Kommersant that the law sets quite clear criteria for inclusion in the register. In the case of “individual media foreign agents,” it is sufficient to “distribute news reports and materials intended for an unlimited number of persons,” as well as to receive “money and (or) other property” from foreign states, organizations and nationals, or “from Russian legal entities receiving money from these sources.” To obtain the status of an “individual foreign agent,” it is enough to receive “foreign” money and “distribute news reports and materials” created by a “foreign agent media outlet” or “participate in the creation” of such “news reports and materials.”

“The legislation specifies neither the need for an obligatory link between the receipt of foreign funds and the dissemination of news reports and materials, nor evidence of the individual’s political activity,” the Justice Ministry confirmed to Kommersant.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian Justice Ministry Adds Five New “Foreign Agents” to Its List

“The register of foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent has been updated. On December 28, 2020, in compliance with the requirements of the current legislation of the Russian Federation, Darya Apahonchich, Denis Kamalyagin, Sergey Markelov, Lev Ponomarev, and Lyudmila Savitskaya were included in the register of foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent.” Screenshot of Russian Justice Ministry website, 28 December 2020

Human Rights Activists Lev Ponomaryov and Four Other People Added to List of “Foreign Agents”
OVD Info
December 28, 2020

For the first time, the Russian Ministry of Justice has placed individuals, including journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, on its registry of “[foreign] mass media acting as foreign agents,” as reflected on the ministry’s website.

Lev Ponomaryov, head of the movement For Human Rights, Radio Svoboda and MBKh Media journalist Lyudmila Savitskaya, 7×7 journalist Sergei Markelov, Pskovskaya Guberniya editor-in-chief Denis Kamalyagin, and grassroots activist and performance artist Darya Apahonchich.

Savitskaya, Markelov and Kamalyagin were probably placed on the registry of “foreign agents” due to their work with Radio Svoboda, which was placed on the registry of “foreign agents” in 2017.

In late December, the State Duma introduced and partly considered bills that would tighten the law on “foreign agents.” Thus, repeated violations of accountability under the law can now result in five years in prison. According to the new clarifications, the status of “foreign agent” can be granted to individuals engaged in political activities and receiving money for this work from abroad. Another bill would prohibit the dissemination of information in the media produced by foreign agents unless it is specially labelled.

Translated by the Russian Reader