The International Press Institute (IPI) and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) today joined international free expression defenders in condemning Russia’s move to stigmatise prominent Russian media freedom watchdog the Glasnost Defence Foundation (GDF) as a “foreign agent”.
Russia’s Justice Ministry yesterday added GDF to its list of “foreign agents” under a 2012 law requiring non-profit organisations that receive foreign donations and engage in political activity to register using that term. NGOs and others required to register are subject to financial audits and issue biannual reports on their activities, in addition to identifying themselves with the phrase “foreign agents” in their materials.
Russian journalist Galina Sidorova, a member of IPI’s Executive Board and the chair of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism – Foundation 19/29, Russia, said today: “For the 25 years of its existence the Glasnost Defense Foundation has done more for advocacy of press freedom, support of independent media, protection of journalists and development of the civil society than any other NGO or professional journalist body in Russia.
“For the last two years the GDF and Foundation 19/29 have been partners in a training program for investigative journalists and bloggers in the Russian regions. There is both irony and hypocrisy in the Ministry’s move, since this very partnership was specified as one of the reasons for its decision to include the GDF in the ‘foreign agents’ list, insofar as Foundation 19/29 had been inserted there earlier last May.
“The Russian government and legal institutions have lately been pursuing an unprecedented attack on independent media and freedom of expression, which they are now trying to mask with the rhetoric of necessity to fight terrorism and extremism. This case against GDF reflects the dramatic and deteriorating situation that independent media and journalists are facing these days in Russia.”
IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis echoed Sidorova’s comments.
“For nearly 25 years, GDF has worked to defend the rights of journalists and protect media freedom across Russia, providing legal assistance to journalists and conducting research into ‘hot spots’ where abuses of media freedom most often occur,” he noted. “This move is the latest in a systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation targeting independent media and civil society in recent years, and will only serve to further hinder the ability of people in Russia to freely share and receive information in the public interest.”
The Kremlin has claimed the 2012 legislation is needed to safeguard Russia from foreign attempts to sway domestic politics. However, the term “foreign agents” carries a Soviet-era connotation of espionage and those who work for organisations that refuse to comply with the demands can be punished with heavy fines or prison sentences.
GDF has received funding from organisations based outside of Russia, including George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the MacArthur Foundation. Yesterday’s decision by the Justice Ministry came after an “unscheduled inspection” of the organisation.