Russian authorities have for the first time labeled natural persons as “foreign agents”. The Justice Ministry on Monday included five human rights activists and journalists on its list, all critical of the Kremlin, including veteran human rights defender and former deputy Lev Ponomariov.
Justice asserts that the five have worked or collaborated with media that, in turn, are considered “foreign agents”, because they receive funding or support from abroad. With the inclusion of individuals in this category, associated since Stalinism with subversion and espionage, the Russian authorities take another step forward in their policy of repression against dissent.
Russian law already provides since 2012 to appoint “foreign agent” to non-governmental and human rights organizations that receive funds from outside Russia. In 2017, the media were also included and a year ago journalists and bloggers .
The formula implies not only a very notorious label, related to the idea of ”enemy of the state” of the times of the USSR, but it implies arduous controls, registries and state audits. Much more and more severe than the entities that are not classified as well. The NGOs and the affected media denounce that it is a way of hindering their work and stopping and harassing civil society.
Lev Ponomariov, who chairs a human rights defense entity and was a deputy in the 1990s, commented that he did not understand the inclusion on the list. The 70-year-old activist and politician explained that he does not even have a salary as a journalist and that he sometimes collaborates with a station or a magazine, but without getting paid.
Ponomariov is studying how to appeal the decision and proposed to form an association with the rest of those affected. “We will create an association of natural persons-foreign agents. The first thing that comes to mind is to protect our collective rights, “he told Interfax agency.
Radio Libertad journalist Liudmila Savítskaya; the director of the digital newspaper Pskóvskaya Gubernia , Denís Kamaliaguin; journalist Sergei Markelov and activist and artist Daria Apajonchich are the other “foreign agents” on the list.
Among the dozen of the indicated media are, among others, the Voice of America station, one of the services for Russia of Radio Libertad, various Czech media or the Nastoyaschee vremia (Present Times) channel .
The inclusion for the first time in the list of natural persons comes just a few days before the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, signs a law that allows electoral candidates who receive any kind of support from outside to also declare a “foreign agent” – which could alienate them from politics – and their collaborators or people related to them.
A law, analysts say, that could be applied, for example, to allies of the opposition Alexei Navalni, whose anti-corruption fund was long ago declared a “foreign agent.” Tagged persons will not be able to hold a good number of positions in the Russian public administration, nor have access to state secrets
Politicians will not be the only ones affected by the new law. It may also be applied against activists who are related to foreign entities and against international journalists. A measure that comes as an appetizer to what can be a complicated electoral campaign for the Government party for the legislative elections of September 2021.
The authorities defend that the new measures, which are accompanied by another string of legal initiatives to stop the protest, control digital media or prevent the dissemination of information from officials, will limit foreign interference in the country.