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Russia names rights group, media outlet 'foreign agents'

September 30, 2021

The Kremlin has placed an independent media agency along with two rights organizations on a register of "foreign agents."

A picture of the full moon shiing over the Moscow Kremlin
Russian authorities continue tightening the screw on media groups and rights organizationsImage: Marina Lystseva/TASS/picture alliance

Russian authorities continued a clampdown on opposition voices on Wednesday.  In the latest move, the country's Ministry of Justice placed an independent media group and two rights groups on a list of "foreign agents."

The decision comes just days after parliamentary elections in which the ruling United Russia party retained its majority in parliament.

What groups are involved?

According to a Ministry of Justice statement, OVD-info, a well-known legal-aid organization and rights group Zona Prava have been given the "foreign agent" tag. Independent media house Mediazona is also on the list.

Under Russian law, an organization that is financed from outside of the country must register as a "foreign agent," which subjects them to greater government scrutiny.

Jailed opposition critic, Alexei Navalny's spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh responded strongly to the government's decision saying on Twitter: "How quickly the "foreign agent" status began to be applied indiscriminately to uncensored media. They in the Kremlin realized that this is a universal cudgel that can be waved right and left, and now they are not embarrassed at all.” Yarmysh called for people to come out in support of the affected parties.

Organizations will continue their work

Speaking to the Associated Press, OVD-info cofounder Grigory Okhotin said the move hardly came as a surprise.

"We see this as being part of the pressure campaign against independent organizations and media. This didn't start today, " Okhotin said, adding, "of course we will continue to work as we did before, this cannot stop us."

Navalny supporters and the Russian election

Independent news agency Mediazona has provided extensive coverage of prominent court cases involving abuse of power. In a statement released on Wednesday, the media house said the "foreign agent" label would make its work more difficult going forward. The news agency believes that sources will now be reluctant to speak to journalists, and the tag would essentially discredit it.

Over the past few months, the Russian government has given a number of media groups and journalists the designation.

The Kremlin has refuted claims that it is stifling freedom of the press and says organizations are still able to operate.

kb/sms (AP, AFP, dpa)