Demands from the free press Meduza joins Dozhd, Novaya Gazeta, Forbes Russia, and other news outlets in a public appeal for an end to the Kremlin’s campaign against independent journalism
On August 27, 2021, newsrooms across Russia appealed in unison to the country’s leadership, demanding an end to the authorities’ campaign against independent journalism. Dozhd, Novaya Gazeta, Forbes Russia, The Village, Republic, Wonderzine, and many more outlets have published letters calling for a return to sanity. This is Meduza’s appeal.
This text is addressed to the following public officials: President Vladimir Putin, National Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev, National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov, Attorney General Igor Krasnov, Investigative Committee Chairman Alexander Bastrykin, Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko, Interior Affairs Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, National Guard Federal Service Director Viktor Zolotov, Federal Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media Service Director Andrey Lipov, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko, and Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin.
We, the journalists and editors of the Russian and Russian-language mass media, demand an immediate end to the state campaign against the free press. The designation of media outlets and individual citizens as “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations” directly violates Russia’s Constitution, its law on the mass media, the nation’s Criminal Code, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of the press. These statuses lead either to a publication’s dissolution or to such discriminatory conditions that journalists cannot actually perform the functions of their profession.
We call on Russia’s authorities to review the felony and administrative cases against journalists and to investigate incidents where reporters were beaten or unlawfully harassed. We demand the public release of all information about who launched the concerted campaign against Russia’s free press, when it began, and why it’s happening at all. In particular, we want to understand the role in this campaign played by Russia’s National Security Council, which our sources say is the key driving force.
The wave of designations in recent months has touched nearly every corner of Russia’s independent media. On December 21, 2020, the Justice Ministry added the Czech information agency Medium-Orient to its “foreign agents” registry. On December 28, officials also designated human rights activist Lev Ponomarev, reporters Lyudmila Savitskaya and Sergey Markelov, Pskovskaya Guberniya editor-in-chief Denis Kamalyagin, and St. Petersburg artist-activist Darya Apakhonchich. On April 7, 2021, Roskomnadzor announced that Radio Svoboda, already designated as a “foreign agent” by the Justice Ministry, had been fined 71.5 million rubles ($971,685) for 390 violations of regulations that require the outlet to mark its content with “foreign agent” warnings. The fees soon jumped to 230 million rubles ($3.1 million). Following this news, the publication’s staff began fleeing the country.
On April 23, the Justice Ministry designated Meduza as a “foreign agent.” The new status chased away most of our advertisers, and Meduza found itself on the brink of dissolution. Our journalists were forced to take salary cuts and some had to leave for new work altogether.
On May 14, the Justice Ministry added to its “foreign agents” registry the organization Stichting 2 Oktober, the domain name administrator for the new website VTimes.io (created by journalists who left Vedomosti after editorial interference). On June 12, VTimes closed permanently. Two days later, Kremlin officials banned the independent television network Dozhd’s correspondents from the presidential press pool.
On July 15, the Attorney General’s Office escalated matters further by outlawing the foreign organization Project Media, Inc., the publisher of the investigative news website Proekt, after concluding that the group “poses a threat to the foundations of Russia’s constitutional order and national security.” Simultaneously, the Justice Ministry designated Proekt editor-in-chief Roman Badanin and journalists Pyotr Manyakhin, Olga Churakova, Maria Zheleznova, and Yulia Lukyanova as individual “foreign agents.” They were soon joined by Elizaveta Maetnaya and Proekt and Russian Open Media reporters Yulia Yarosh, Maxim Glikin, Ilya Rozhdestvensky, Mikhail Rubin, Sofya Groisman, Yulia Apukhtina, and Alexey Posternak.
On July 23, the Justice Ministry added The Insider SIA, the domain name administrator for the investigative news website The Insider, to Russia’s “foreign agents” registry. Afterward, editor-in-chief Roman Dobrokhotov urged his colleagues to leave Russia. On July 28, police officers raided his home and seized both his computer equipment and his international travel passport, supposedly as part of a defamation investigation where Dobrokhotov is just a witness.
On August 4, Roskomnadzor blocked the Russian websites Open Media and MBK Media, as well as the human rights project “Pravozashchita Otkrytki,” acting on orders from the Attorney General’s Office, based on the agency’s determination that they were linked to the illegal and “undesirable” organizations Open Russia Civic Movement and Open Russia.
On August 20, the Justice Ministry added the independent television network Dozhd and the investigative news website iStories (whose legal entity, Istories Fonds, is registered in Latvia) to Russia’s “foreign agents” registry. Officials also designated several more individual “foreign agent” journalists: Stepan Petrov, Olesya Shmagun, Alesya Marokhovskaya, Irina Dolinina, Roman Shleinov, Roman Anin, and Dmitry Velikovsky
Activists with documented close ties to the state who have already participated in the campaign against Russia’s free press by filing complaints are now calling for officials to designate Novaya Gazeta and Mediazona as “foreign agents.”
We are confident that these events are part of a concerted campaign to destroy Russia’s independent media, whose only “sin” is reporting the news honestly to the public. We demand an immediate end to this campaign. We demand to know the names of the people involved in this campaign. And we demand the repeal of Russia’s anti-constitutional, anti-democratic laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations.”
In addition, we draw your attention to the fact that this campaign features not just unprecedented pressure on newsrooms but on journalists personally. At demonstrations, reporters are beaten and treated unlawfully and shamelessly like protesters themselves. Former Kommersant correspondent Ivan Safronov is being jailed on charges of treason. He was taken into custody well more than a year ago, on July 7, 2020, but officials have still presented no evidence of his guilt. Ivan Safronov should be freed immediately and exonerated fully.
The work journalists do is protected by the law, and officials involved in the persecution of journalists should be punished. We call for a thorough investigation of all incidents where physical force or special police equipment was used against reporters by members of the Interior Ministry and the National Guard, including violence against Meduza correspondent Kristina Safonova and Novaya Gazeta correspondent and photographer Elizaveta Kirpanova and Georgy Markov at protests on January 23, 2021, and Real View YouTube channel anchor Fyodor Khudorkomov at a demonstration on February 2, and Mediazona journalist David Frenkel at a polling station on July 3, 2020. Some of these reporters even sustained head injuries when they were assaulted.
All unlawful prosecutions of journalists for supposedly participating in unpermitted protests also demand the same thorough investigation. This includes cases against Baza editor-in-chief Nikita Mogutin (who was fined for covering Russia’s opposition protests on April 23) and Mediazona editor-in-chief Sergey Smirnov (who was jailed for 15 days based on bogus charges that he incited an unpermitted rally).
Once again, these are our demands:
- Repeal Russia’s laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable” organizations;
- Un-designate all organizations and individuals added to these registries, and abolish the lists themselves; and
- Drop all unlawful misdemeanor and felony cases against journalists and launch an immediate inquiry.
We demand compliance with the Constitution, its law on the mass media, and Article 144 of Russia’s Criminal Code, which prohibits the “obstruction of the lawful professional activity of journalists.”