Vladimir Putin urged to end crackdown on Russian journalists

More than a dozen independent media sign open letter calling for halt to ‘foreign agent’ designations

TV Rain The independent channel TV Rain is among the outlets the government has designated a foreign agent. Photograph: Denis Kaminev/APThe independent channel TV Rain is among the outlets the government has designated a foreign agent. Photograph: Denis Kaminev/AP

in Moscow

Russia’s leading independent media have appealed to Vladimir Putin and other top government officials to halt a crackdown on journalists under which some of the countries’ top outlets have been declared foreign agents or banned outright over the last year.

More than a dozen media, including Meduza, TV Rain and Novaya Gazeta have signed an open letter to the government calling on it to remove individual journalists and their outlets from its blacklists and repeal laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable organisations” altogether.

“We are convinced that these events are part of a coordinated campaign to destroy independent Russian media, whose entire ‘guilt’ is constituted by their honestly fulfilling their professional duties to their readers,” the letter reads. “We demand that this campaign be halted right now.”

Top outlets and individual journalists have been declared foreign agents under a 2017 Russian law that requires them to affix a disclaimer to any content they produce and provide reports on their funding. They argue it is a death sentence for independent media because it scares off advertisers, potential sources and reporting partners.

The list includes prominent outlets such as the US-funded Radio Free Europe, the Riga-based Meduza, Bellingcat partner The Insider, TV Rain, the investigative website iStories, regional publications and others, including prominent human rights activists.

Some outlets said they have been forced to close because a foreign agent declaration had destroyed their business models. VTimes, a publication staffed mainly by former Vedomosti reporters who left that paper during a censorship row, ceased publication earlier this year after being declared a foreign agent.

Others have been banned outright. The investigative news outlet Proekt was declared an undesirable organisation earlier this year in what was widely seen as revenge for a series of blockbuster investigations into senior members of government and businessmen with reported ties to Putin.

The organisation also published an investigation that claimed that it had identified a young woman who was Putin’s daughter, allegedly born to the Russian president’s mistress.

Despite the open letter, the government does not appear likely to halt the crackdown on media. A senior BBC correspondent is expected to leave the country by the end of the month because her visa was not extended, indicating that foreign media may also come under greater pressure in a scenario similar to that in China.


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