Roman Dobrokhotov, editor-in-chief of The inside, he walks surrounded by policemen and journalists in Moscow on Wednesday. The police raided his home after the The investigative news organization was designated as a “foreign agent.” Last week, it became the 16th news outlet to be added to the list of foreign agents of the Russian Ministry of Justice.
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
MOSCOW – Darya Apakhonchich never considered herself a foreign agent.
She taught Russian to refugees in her hometown, St. Petersburg, and participated in street performances against militarism and violence against women. The activism of the Apakhonchich art group was quirky and local, and their performances typically garnered a couple of hundred views on Youtube.
“It is not a crime to teach Russian as a foreign language and get paid for it,” says Apakhonchich. “And it is not a crime to participate in activism and go to demonstrations, especially in view of the Russian constitution.”
But the Russian authorities have treated her as if she were a criminal.
In December, the 36-year-old mother of two discovered that the Ministry of Justice had listed her in a list of “foreign media agents”, along with the media, including Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, funded by the US government.Organizations such as the French College of Saint Petersburg State University paid for Apakhonchich’s crimes and published their political views on social media .
A month after finding himself on the list, Apakhonchich says, police opened the door of his home early on a Sunday morning, confiscated his family’s electronic devices and spent seven hours searching for “extremist” material in his apartment.
A self-portrait of Darya Apakhonchich, with the writing on her face and the figure of a woman that says: “Not just a body, but a person, person, person, person, person.” He took the photo in support of Russian artist and LGBTQ activist Yulia Tsvetkova, who is facing criminal charges for spreading pornography through her art.
The 2012 Russian law on foreign agents originally distinguished non-governmental organizations that received grants from abroad. The since then the legislation has been modified to target not only media organizations, but individual journalists, YouTube bloggers, and virtually anyone else receiving money from abroad and expressing a political opinion.
Upon receiving the designation, they must tag everything they post, including social media posts, such as the work of a foreign agent and submit quarterly financial reports to the Ministry of Justice. Accounting errors and non-compliance can result in fines and even imprisonment.
At the end of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed new legislation which broadened the legal definition of who can be considered a foreign agent. Since December, the Ministry of Justice has tagged more than a dozen Russian citizens, including Apakhonchich and Lev Ponomaryov, a human rights activist for over 30 years.
Following the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny earlier this year, the Kremlin has used the foreign agents law to persecute journalists and news organizations critical of the government. Last week, the investigative news site The inside he turned the sixteenth medium of communication to be added to the list of foreign agents of the Ministry of Justice.
VTimes, an independent business news site, closed in June, saying that his appointment as a foreign agent had destroyed his business model. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty faces more than $ 3 million in fines for refusing to label its content as produced by a “foreign agent”.
Meduza, a popular independent news site, has run into trouble after being tagged as a foreign agent and being blacklisted by the Ministry of Justice in April. In 2014, dissident Russian journalists founded the site in neighboring Latvia to protect it from pressure from the Kremlin. Meduza later branched out into podcasts and a English Version.
“Now it is more difficult to talk to people because many people who would gladly talk to us are now wary of being associated with a ‘foreign agent’, which is a major impediment,” says Alexey Kovalyov. MeduzaResearch editor.
After the designation became Meduza In a “toxic brand,” says Kovalyov, advertisers fled. A crowdfunding campaign has brought in donations from 96,000 contributors, keeping the site afloat for at least a few more months.
“What happens after that, nobody really knows, because we don’t know how sustainable this crowdfunding model is,” says Kovalyov.
The Kremlin denies that the law on foreign agents is censorship, and Putin often compares it to the US law on foreign agents. On paper, the laws may be similar, but human rights groups say Russian authorities use the designation of “foreign agent” as a way to stifle dissent.
“Since 2012, the Russian government has used the ‘foreign agents’ law to demonize independent groups that accept foreign funding and conduct public advocacy activities, especially those that in some way challenge government policies and actions.” Human Rights Watch said in November. “In Russia, the term ‘foreign agent’ has a strong negative connotation, similar to ‘traitor’.”
When the Russian law emerged in a meeting of the Kremlin human rights council in DecemberPutin recalled the case of maria butina, a Russian citizen who spent more than a year in detention in the United States after being accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Putin told the council that Russia needed to designate individuals as foreign agents because “some people are simply inventing new ways to get money from abroad for their activities.”
Putin told NBC News In June, many organizations of the “so-called civil society” are financed and receive training from abroad. “To avoid this type of interference in our internal affairs, we make relevant decisions and adopt relevant laws,” he said.
For the Russian authorities, Putin’s hard line is a green light to crack down on civil society.
“The way they perceive civil society is: ‘He who pays the piper, sends the tune,’” he says. Maxim Trudolyubov, contributing editor to Meduza and a senior advisor to the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC “They decided for the public that the reason for everything that goes wrong comes from the West, from abroad.”
Trudolyubov says Putin needs to fabricate threats to stay in power. But the “totalitarian instinct” behind the Kremlin’s foreign agent law, he says, clashes with the complex and diverse society Russia has become.
“Putin himself is part of a generation that remembers the Soviet Union very well and wants to be in control,” says Trudolyubov. “He is very nervous to see that he cannot achieve that kind of control and that there are parts of society that reject it.”
Apakhonchich, the activist and teacher, represents a new generation of Russians. After the police raid on her home, she moved with her children to neighboring Georgia for the safety of the family. She says her appointment as a foreign media agent was designed to send a signal.
“I think I was chosen to intimidate people who, like me, cooperate with foreign organizations,” she says.
In May, a St. Petersburg court confirmed his blacklisting. But Apakhonchich refuses to be silent.
“Maybe she could have just gone back to being a mother,” she says. “But I understand that people still face repression even if they do not say anything, do not grant interviews and I hope that if they sit quietly, everything will be fine.”