Russian Court Rejects RFE/RL Journalist’s Appeal Of ‘Foreign Agent’ Designation

Lyudmila Savitskaya argued that she was merely doing her job as a professional journalist. (file photo)  

A court in the western Russian city of Pskov has denied an appeal by RFE/RL contributor Lyudmila Savitskaya contesting her inclusion on Russia’s controversial register of "foreign agent" media.

The Pskov court ruled on May 5 that Savitskaya’s inclusion on the Justice Ministry’s list was lawful. Savitskaya’s attorneys said they would appeal the ruling.

Savitskaya and four other people — RFE/RL contributor Sergei Markelov, human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, artist and activist Darya Apakhonchich, and Pskov newspaper editor Denis Kamalygin — were included in the "foreign agent" media list in December 2020.

The ministry did not give any justification for why these individuals were listed. All five are appealing their inclusion on the list.

In court on May 5, Justice Ministry representatives presented as evidence against Savitskaya articles she had written about anti-government protesters, alleged torture in Russian prisons, and the blocking of electronic communications in the areas around prisons.

In addition, they presented a large number of documents marked "for official use only" from the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor-General’s Office, and other agencies that Savitskaya and her attorneys were not allowed to examine.

Savitskaya’s defense argued that none of the materials presented indicated that she was working at the behest of any foreign power.

In her closing remarks to the court, Savitskaya argued that she was merely doing her job as a professional journalist.

"These days, not a single state mass-media outlet is reporting about the real problems confronting people, But Radio Svoboda does," she said, referring to the Russian Service of RFE/RL.

"I was labeled a ‘foreign agent’ because I am shouting out to everyone about injustice and about people who are being persecuted. But everyone needs to know that the real foreign agents today are sitting in the Kremlin and in the State Duma, because they are working against Russian citizens and against a happy Russia in the future, while I am working for them," she added.

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 targeted foreign-funded media. At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified to allow the Russian government to include individuals, including foreign journalists, on its "foreign agents" list and to impose restrictions on them.

In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL’s Russian Service, six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time on the list.

Earlier this year, Russian courts began imposing large fines against RFE/RL for failing to mark its articles with a government-prescribed label as required by rules adopted in October 2020. RFE/RL is appealing the fines.

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."

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

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