Moscow Court Upholds Justice Ministry’s Decision To Label Meduza A ‘Foreign Agent’

File Image of Laptop Computer, Tables and Mobile Device, adapted from image at energy.gov

(Article text ©2021 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – rferl.org – MOSCOW, June 4, 2021 – article text also appeared at rferl.org/a/russia-meduza-foreign-agent-justice-ministry/31290398.html)

A court in Moscow has upheld the Justice Ministry’s move to designate the Latvia-based independent Meduza news outlet as a “foreign agent” — a move that requires it to label itself as such and subjects the media outlet to increased government scrutiny and regulation.

Meduza said that the Zamoskvorechye district court rejected its appeal on June 4, adding that the court’s decision will also be appealed.

The Justice Ministry added Meduza to the registry of “foreign agents” on April 23, without giving detailed justification for the move.

Russia’s so-called “foreign agent” legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” and to submit to audits. Later modifications of the law have targeted foreign-funded media.

Human Rights Watch has described the legislation as “restrictive” and intended “to demonize independent groups.”

Meduza was formed in 2014 by the former chief editor of Lenta.ru, Galina Timchenko, after she and most of Lenta.ru’s editorial staff left following an ownership change.

According to the independent Medialogia monitoring site, Meduza was among the top 10 most-cited Russian-language Internet sources in 2020 and was No. 1 in the ranking of most-linked-to in social-media posts.

In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL’s Russian Service on the list, along with six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time, the network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

At the end of last year, the legislation was modified to allow the Russian government to add individuals, including foreign journalists, to its “foreign agents” list and to impose restrictions on them.

The Russian state media monitor Roskomnadzor last year adopted rules requiring listed media to mark all written materials with a lengthy notice in large text, all radio materials with an audio statement, and all video materials with a 15-second text declaration.

RFE/RL rejects the “foreign agent” designation and has refused to comply with the rules, so the agency has prepared hundreds of complaints against RFE/RL’s projects. When they go through the court system, the total fines levied could be more than $3 million.

RFE/RL has called the fines “a state-sponsored campaign of coercion and intimidation,” while the U.S. State Department has described them as “intolerable.”