Russian media, NGOs launch petition demanding cancellation of “foreign agents” law

More than 150 media and non-governmental organizations in Russia have launched a petition urging authorities to overturn the controversial “foreign agents” law, widely seen as a tool used by the Kremlin to stifle civil society and independent media.

Russian law, first passed in 2012 and amended several times since, requires designated media outlets to label all of their content with an intrusive disclaimer.

The petition indicates that, since January, the Ministry of Justice has added six media outlets, 20 journalists and seven NGOs to the register of “foreign agents”. Between 2013 and 2020, a total of 221 groups and individuals were inscribed on the list.

As of September 14, nearly 8,000 people have signed the petition, which can be found on the website.

“We see the current situation as an act of pressure from the state on the media and public organizations. The law itself and the way it is used aim to weaken the institutions of civil society, ”the statement said. “The law on foreign agents must be completely overturned.”

The designation carries ominous Soviet-era connotations and comes with onerous labeling requirements that threatened funding for some media outlets.

Some media have complied, even amid fears that the labels will scare advertisers. At least one designated Russian media outlet has closed, while Meduza has resorted to crowdfunding to keep operating.

The designation has also gained prominence as the Russians prepare to go to the polls for the September 17-19 elections.

Some critics say that with support for the collapsing Kremlin-backed United Russia Party, officials are using the law to silence the voices of opposition candidates by restricting independent media.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and several of its Russian-language news sites, including its flagship Russian-language television channel, Current Time, are on the register.

RFE / RL did not label its content, leading the Justice Department to impose tens of millions of dollars in fines. RFE / RL appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and also decided to transfer some of its employees and operations from Moscow to Kiev and elsewhere.

RFE / RL President Jamie Fly said Russia is trying to end the existence of RFE / RL’s Moscow office with sanctions.

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