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Life after ‘undesirability’ Now that Meduza has been outlawed, these are the risks involved in reading and sharing our work from inside Russia
- What happened?
- So, is it now illegal for Russians to read Meduza?
- What about social media? Can people still share Meduza’s content? What happens with old stories? What about “likes”? Do Russian nationals need to unsubscribe from everything Meduza-related?
- What’s the punishment for linking to an article from an ‘undesirable’ organization?
- What else is dangerous for Russian nationals?
- And what about donations to Meduza?
- Can people donate from abroad?
- Can Russian readers still write to Meduza? What if Meduza journalists want to ask a Russian citizen something?
- Is there anything that’s still safe in Russia?
- When does this new ‘undesirable’ designation take effect?
- Is there any way to donate to Meduza from inside Russia?
- Will Meduza’s work change?
On January 26, 2023, Russia’s Prosecutor General designated Meduza as an “undesirable” organization:
It has been established that [Meduza’s] activities pose a threat to the foundations of the Russian Federation’s constitutional order and [to Russia’s national] security.
The relevant law on “undesirable” organizations was passed in 2015, giving the Prosecutor General the power to assign this status to any foreign or international non-governmental organization, if the federal agency decides that the group’s activities somehow threaten “the constitution order, defense capability, or security of Russia.”
The new decision bans Meduza from operating on Russian territory under threat of felony prosecution and also poses legal risks to Russian citizens who “participate in Meduza’s activities.” Meduza.io has 9 million monthly readers, millions of whom reside in Russia. Even more are Russian nationals.
So, is it now illegal for Russians to read Meduza?
Luckily, no one has made reading Meduza illegal, even within Russia. At least not yet. But interacting with the publication in other ways (linking to our materials or donating to help finance our operations) could lead to state persecution for Russian nationals. In most cases, first-time offenses would be considered misdemeanors, while repeat offenses escalate to felonies.
What about social media? Can people still share Meduza’s content? What happens with old stories? What about “likes”? Do Russian nationals need to unsubscribe from everything Meduza-related?
For safety reasons, anyone now in Russia or planning to travel there should delete any posts online where they’ve shared reporting by Meduza.
It’s not important when something was posted — enforcement here is retroactive. Publishing on the Internet is a so-called “lasting” offense, meaning that the statute of limitations applies not to the moment of publication but to the moment when law enforcement claims to have discovered the post (regardless of when they actually found it). This means that Meduza’s readers in Russia could be fined even for sharing our content many years ago.
The situation is a little better with likes and comments. Of course, the authorities have the power to interpret “participation in the activities of an undesirable organization” as broadly as they wish, but there is currently no record of prosecutors bringing misdemeanor or felony charges against anyone in Russia simply for liking or commenting on Internet content linked to an “undesirable” organization. The same is true for subscriptions to these organizations’ channels on social media.
Meduza presently considers the risk to Russian citizens involved in liking, commenting on, or subscribing to our content to be minimal, and we do not see any pressing need to delete old likes, comments, or tags.
What’s the punishment for linking to an article from an ‘undesirable’ organization?
The first time a Russian national is convicted of sharing content from an “undesirable” organization, the penalty is a fine of 5,000 to 15,000 rubles (about $70 to $215). Subsequent offenses carry the risk of felony prosecution, and violators can face up to four years in prison, community service, restrictions of freedom, or a raised fine of up to 500,000 rubles (more than $7,000).
There are numerous instances where Russian citizens were fined for “participating in the activities of an undesirable organization”; the human rights group OVD-Info keeps a list of such cases. There have also been some felony charges. For example, the case against Andrey Pivovarov, the former head of the Open Russia movement (another “undesirable” organization), was based on content he posted to Facebook.
What else is dangerous for Russian nationals?
Sharing hyperlinks to Meduza’s materials on various platforms (for example, where you host your work portfolio) or even citing our work in academic publications can pose problems. If possible, people residing in or visiting Russia should purge this content.
Sharing screenshots and PDFs of Meduza’s reporting, which Russian readers sometimes use to circumvent Internet censorship, is now also unsafe. Meduza will continue to offer readers the option to save our articles as PDFs, we explicitly warn that distributing these materials is now a crime inside Russia.
For the time being, merely speaking to someone about Meduza, say at a party, is highly unlikely to lead to any legal consequences, even if someone reports the conversation to the police. According to human rights attorneys, the authorities are unlikely to invest the time needed to prosecute such a case. At the same time, crazy as it sounds, it is theoretically possible that even talking to someone about a Meduza article could constitute a punishable offense.
At this time, we cannot assess the danger in Russia of wearing Meduza’s merchandise or displaying a sticker bearing Meduza’s logo.
And what about donations to Meduza?
Unfortunately, for Russian citizens, giving money to an “undesirable” organization can lead to immediate felony charges. The maximum penalty is a five-year prison term. The only good news here is that, so far, such prosecutions in Russia are unprecedented.
The crisis here isn’t as bad as it sounds: Meduza already stopped accepting payments from inside Russia last spring, when all recurring pledges made using Russian bank cards were automatically discontinued.
That said, we advise our readers still in Russia to delete any posts on social media that urge others to join Meduza’s crowdfunding campaign, as such content could be considered an ongoing criminal conspiracy to fund an “undesirable” organization. Any donations made before January 26, however, remain legal in Russia and cannot be prosecuted.
Can people donate from abroad?
Of the hundreds of thousands of Russians now living abroad, those who remain citizens of Russia should be careful. Meduza recommends canceling all payments — even those on foreign cards (though it is difficult for the Russian authorities to trace transactions on cards from Western banks). Anyone planning to enter Russia should to take extra precautions.
But those of you who don’t live in Russia, don’t plan to visit, and who aren’t Russian citizens can — and should — support Meduza. It matters now more than ever.
Can Russian readers still write to Meduza? What if Meduza journalists want to ask a Russian citizen something?
Communicating with Meduza is still possible. Anyone worried about their safety in such interactions should ask to maintain anonymity; Meduza will always honor the request. But there are risks for anyone in Russia: we consulted lawyers who say the authorities will likely show far less leniency to people transmitting information to “undesirable” organizations than they do to individuals who merely “like” or comment on something online.
If you’re in Russia or plan to be there in the future, we recommend using a secure channel when contacting Meduza. The gold standard here is SecureDrop. You can find detailed instructions (in Russian) for sharing important information with Meduza right here.
Is there anything that’s still safe in Russia?
Forwarding our newsletters (especially our Kit and Signal newsletters, which aren’t formally part of Meduza) is still okay.
Of course, in the authorities’ eyes, forwarding a Meduza newsletter could nevertheless constitute “participating in [its] activities,” but law enforcement is unlikely to bother pursuing such a case (like with small talk at a party). For added safety, it’s best for anyone in Russia not to use Russia-based email services like Mail.ru.
There’s also no crime in using Meduza’s mobile app, which circumvents Internet blockages.
Anyone who is arrested and found to be in possession of work from Meduza should also be safe from charges of “participating in the activities of an undesirable organization,” unless they’re caught with a stack of printed materials, which could be construed as intent to distribute.
When does this new ‘undesirable’ designation take effect?
The Prosecutor General’s decision will take effect after the newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta publishes an updated list of “undesirable” organizations, which at the time of this writing hasn’t happened yet. In other words, there’s still time for people in Russia to delete anything that could incriminate them.
Is there any way to donate to Meduza from inside Russia?
Cryptocurrency allows for anonymous transfers and is not yet illegal in Russia.
Will Meduza’s work change?
Yes, but we’ll do everything we can so that our readers don’t notice. Our Russian-language edition has already stopped posting a previously required message about Meduza’s status as a “foreign agent.” We’ve also stopped indicating when the authorities have assigned this discriminatory status to other organizations and individuals.
“The Russian state has effectively driven Meduza beyond the law, and we no longer find it necessary to observe its repressive laws. Our work will be guided by our own code,” says an announcement by our core newsroom.
English-language version by Emily Laskin
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