European Federation of Journalists

Russian authorities have outlawed news website Meduza

Credits: Meduza.

Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office announced on 26 January that it has added the independent news outlet Meduza to the country’s list of “undesirable” organizations. This sanction is intended to force the targeted entities to dissolve. It puts media staff and financial donors at risk of criminal prosecution, including a significant prison sentence. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) strongly condemns this censorship of one of the main sources of independent information in Russia.

Russia has been banning “undesirable organizations” since 2015, when lawmakers granted the Prosecutor General’s Office the power to assign this status to any foreign or international non-governmental organization that allegedly threatens Russia’s “constitutional-order foundations” or national security.

In July 2022, President Vladimir Putin signed a law imposing criminal punishment on individuals working abroad with organizations that the government has labeled “undesirable” within Russia. The “undesirable organization” label requires an organization to cease all operations in Russia and allows its funds and assets in the country to be confiscated. Russians are prohibited from participating in the work of “undesirable organizations,” even outside Russia. The penalty for violation is up to four years imprisonment. Financial contributions to such organizations also carry a penalty of up to five years in prison. Referring to materials published by an “undesirable organization” is a criminal offense and can lead to legal consequences, including the blocking of any media outlet citing an “undesirable organization” in Russia.

Meduza, which is based in Riga (Latvia), covers various topics, including politics, social issues, culture, and the war in Ukraine. In July 2022, Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group, requested that Meduza be labeled an undesirable organization immediately after it published an investigation into the activities of his mercenary group.

“This is not the first example of a media outlet being declared “undesirable” in Russia. But until now it has been small investigative media. This time the measure is aimed at a mainstream publication that in recent years has been widely quoted by other media, with the obligation for these media to indicate that Meduza is considered a ‘foreign agent’,” said JMWU secretary Andrei Jvirblis. “Currently, all media outlets that continue to operate in Russia are forced to frantically remove all references to Meduza from their online archives. In other words, to do the same job as the hero of 1984, Winston Smith. Author George Orwell sends his greetings to the Russian Prosecutor General’s office from Sutton Courtenay, where he is buried.”

“With this arbitrary act of censorship, the Russian authorities are trying to dissuade the site’s readers from continuing to obtain information from the Meduza site and relaying its news,” said EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez. “This new wave of repression is also marked by the decision of the Moscow appeal court on 25 January to confirm the liquidation of the independent Russian journalists’ union JMWU. This crackdown will not succeed. Meduza will continue to do its news work. And our Russian affiliate JMWU will continue to defend independent Russian journalists.”