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30 Sep, 2021 11:47

News site founded by Pussy Riot & Golos election monitor among 24 new groups given ‘foreign agent’ status by Russian government

News site founded by Pussy Riot & Golos election monitor among 24 new groups given ‘foreign agent’ status by Russian government

Two dozen Russian organizations and journalists have been added to a government list of ‘foreign agents’ with ties to overseas funding, requiring them to declare their status and abide by a series of financial disclosure rules.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Ministry of Justice released a series of updates to its register of NGOs and businesses that officials say take cash from abroad to influence the political and media landscape in Russia. Among those now included are civil liberties group OVD-Info, election activists Golos and news-site Mediazona, which was founded by members of anarchist feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot. In addition, the Center for German and European Culture in Nizhny Novgorod and the Center for Gender Studies in Ivanovo join the 24 additional organizations labeled foreign agents.

Founded in 2014 by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot, Mediazona has been awarded for its investigations by foreign foundations and also lobbies for the rights of prisoners. Its editor-in-chief, Sergey Smirnov, and publisher Pyotr Verzilov have both been given individual foreign agent designations.

Smirnov was handed down a 25-day prison sentence by a Russian court in February for promoting demonstrations in support of jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny. He insists he had shared the details as part of a joke, but prosecutors argued he had encouraged people to take part in the unauthorized protests, which had been banned under Covid-19 rules on mass gatherings.

In a statement, Mediazona announced that it would challenge the decision in court and that the designation would not change the way it operates or its content. “This status doesn't affect your ability to be in Russia in any way,” Verzilov said. “Our entire editorial office is in Moscow, and we aren't going to change that.”

Under the rules, registered foreign agents have to display their status prominently in their materials and on social networks but can continue to function without restriction. Organizations and individuals must also abide by a series of rules around financial reporting, and can risk hefty fines and even criminal action if they fall foul of the terms.

Also on rt.com Pussy Riot’s Alyokhina given one year of ‘restricted freedom’ as another Russian opposition figure is convicted in ‘sanitary case’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently defended the system on the basis that it informs those reading and viewing content put out by foreign agents that it has been bankrolled from abroad. According to him, the legislation “exists simply to protect Russia from external meddling in its politics.”  The country's approach, he has said, is far less restrictive than measures imposed on Russian media, including RT, in countries like the US. However, some of the outlets affected rejected this as a false description.

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