20 May 2021 Lvl. 2
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Alert created on: 14 Jan 2021 n° 6/2021 Russian Federation

Russian Regulator Announces Fines for RFE/RL Outlets under Expanded ‘Foreign Agent’ Law

Source of threatState
CategoryOther acts having chilling effects on media freedom
Partner CPJ Article 19 AEJ EFJ/IFJ RSF
No state reply yet
Partner CPJ Article 19 AEJ EFJ/IFJ RSF
On 12 January, 2021, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator, issued four notices to media outlets run by the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and four personal notices to Andrey Shary, the general director of the RFE/RL’s legal entity in Russia, as the person responsible for each outlet, according to a statement by the regulator, a report by RFE/RL, and news reports.
The notices allege that the four outlets—Radio Liberty, Current Time TV, and the regional news websites Sibir.Realii and Idel.Realii—failed to label their content as “foreign agent-produced,” a violation of Russia’s foreign agents law, according to news reports and the regulator’s statement.
The notices will next be reviewed by a judge, who will set a fine; companies can be fined up to 500,000 rubles (Eur 5,600), and individuals up to 50,000 rubles (Eur 561), according to the regulator’s statement. Individuals can also face up to five years in prison if charged and convicted with violating the foreign agents law, according to the Russian criminal code.
According to RFE/RL, the notices mark the first instances of Russian authorities pursuing such fines under the foreign agents law. Amendments to that law, passed in December 2020, expanded its provisions to cover individuals who work at outlets that receive foreign funding, and to require all media outlets to note the status of such individuals and organizations as “foreign agents” whenever they produce news or are mentioned in news articles, according to reports.
Authorities can continue to increase the fines if the outlets are deemed to remain out of compliance with the law, and Roskomnadzor has announced that it plans to file more notices to the RFE/RL companies, according to news reports.
Also in December 2020, authorities added Lyudmila Savitskaya and Sergei Markelov, freelance correspondents for RFE/RL’s Sever.Realii, and Denis Kamalyagin, chief editor of the independent regional newspaper Pskovskaya Gubernia and a contributor to RFE/RL’s Russian service, to the list of foreign agents, according to a report by RFE/RL. They also added the Czech Republic-based news agency Medium-Orient, the parent company of the news website Caucasus Times, according to a statement by the Russian ministry of justice, news reports, and Islam Tekushev, Medium-Orient’s project coordinator, who spoke with CPJ on the phone.
While the Caucasus Times publishes news and investigations focusing on the North and South Caucasus, Medium-Orient has no permanent presence or bureau in Russia, which Tekushev told CPJ he believed should make it exempt from the foreign agent law. He said he is going to appeal the decision in a Russian court.
CPJ emailed Roskomnadzor and the Russian Ministry of Justice for comment, but did not receive any responses.
Updates
New 20 May 2021
On 19 May 2021, RFE/RL filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights arguing that the "foreign agent" law and the millions of dollars in fines levied on its Russian operations violate the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The outlet is asking for the case to be granted priority status stating that they will suffer irreversible harms if the Court does not act quickly. Earlier in the year, the Court declined to grant interim measures in response to RFE/RL’s initial application for urgent interim relief on 16 April.
New 18 May 2021
On 14 May 2021, Russian authorities froze the local bank accounts of RFE/RL for allegedly failing to pay fines issued for noncompliance with the country’s foreign agents law.
New 06 May 2021
On 5 May 2021, the Psvok City Court rejected the appeal of Lyudmila Savitskaya contesting her inclusion on the "foreign agent" media register.
15 Mar 2021
Roskommnadzor has opened 260 cases against RFE/RL for violations of labeling requirements under the amended “foreign agents” law. As of 4 march 2021, a Moscow court had levied fines in 142 cases, with the total fines approaching a value of nearly €1 million. As of 12 March, RFE/RL representatives had filed appeals against 150 rulings of the Magistrate Judge with the Tverskoy District Court at Moscow. On 3 March 2021, the court rejected five appeals by RFE/RL against fines imposed on the outlet. Despite ongoing appeals in more cases on the issue, RFE/RL has 60 days to pay the fines and comply with the regulations or face the potential closure of its operations in the Russian Federation. The outlet plans to file an application for cassation.
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