For the first time, Russia used the designation “foreign agent” to brand three journalists and two activists. All are critics of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The recently amended law is similar to the one that also just took effect in Nicaragua.
The five victims were on the list for working or collaborating with media that receive financing from outside the country. They are now “foreign agents”, according to the law taking effect in Russia at the end of 2019. Such individuals must then classify all their journalistic material as elaborated by a “foreign agent”.
Among the five, the Ministry of Justice included veteran human rights advocate Lev Ponomariov. Ponomariov expressed surprise to see his name on the list, as did journalist Sergei Markelov.
Also catalogued as foreign agents were Liudmila Savitskaya, a reporter with “Radio Libertad”, and artist and activist Daria Apajonchich. The final figure named was journalist Denis Kamaliaguin, who directs the digital newspaper “Pskovskaya Gubernia”.
Ten media outlets currently operate under the classification of “foreign agents” in Russia. These include the Voice of America; one of the national services of Radio Libertad; the “Nastoyaschee vremia (Current Times) channel; and a several websites.
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Individuals now subject to classification as “foreign agents”
The authors of the “foreign agents” law are deputies from the “United Russia” party, linked to the Kremlin. Their justification was that this law would allow them to limit foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs.
The Duma, Russia’s parliament, recently approved another law that extends the definition to individuals. It now applies to individuals involved in political activities in the interest of foreign states and receiving outside financing. Political activities could be interpreted as meetings, for example, or election observation.
The extension will allow the government to classify journalists from other countries accredited in Russia as “foreign agents”. The designation applies if they are doing work “incompatible with their professional activity.”
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Individuals so classified cannot hold any positions in Russian public service or administration. Nor can they be allowed any access to State secrets.
Russian president Vladimir Putin defends these laws saying they resemble practices that exist in other countries. Opposition figures, however, accuse the Duma of taking advantage of the Coronavirus pandemic to restrict political freedoms. They claim they are doing so with an eye towards the Russian legislative elections of 2021.