Russia’s media watchdog said Wednesday it had fined the Russian-language service of U.S.-funded Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe nearly $150,000 over non-compliance with its controversial “foreign agent” law, in a penalty that could increase.
Groups or individuals identified as “foreign agents” in Russia must disclose their sources of funding and label publications with the relevant tag or face fines.
Media regulator Roskomnadzor said that it had drawn up 166 protocols against Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, which was ruled a foreign agent in 2017, and its director for failing to label nine of the U.S. outlet’s websites operating in Russia.
Roskomnadzor said that a court has so far considered 40 of those protocols and ruled in favour of a fine in each instance, which the U.S. outlet has been incurring since late January.
“The total sum of the fines has reached 11 million rubles ($148,730 or 122,750 euros),” Roskomnadzor told AFP.
Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe’s regional director for Europe, Kiryl Sukhotski, last week dismissed the fines as a “state-sponsored campaign of coercion and intimidation.”
Legislation allowing authorities to brand organizations with the Soviet-era term “foreign agent” was originally passed in 2012 to cover NGOs.
It was expanded to include media organisations in 2017 after Kremlin-funded RT (former Russia Today) was declared a foreign agent in the United States.
Russia further expanded the legislation in December to include individuals and increased the potential penalties for failing to comply with its provisions, with possible prison sentences of up to five years.
The law will also bar those individuals from holding municipal government positions.
Critics say the new legislation is intended to further clamp down on dissent ahead of key parliamentary elections in September.
Russia Fines RFE/RL $500K Under ‘Foreign Agent’ Law
Russia has fined the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty media outlet more than half a million dollars so far for violating the country’s controversial “foreign agent” law, Interfax reported Wednesday.
RFE/RL has accused the Russian authorities of trying to squeeze it out of the country with “disastrous” foreign agent labeling requirements and fines of up to $5 million.
Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor said a Moscow court has issued fines for 142 out of the 260 notices of violations it filed against RFE/RL, according to Interfax. The regulator previously signaled its intention to issue half as many notices for RFE/RL’s failure to label its content as produced by a “foreign agent.”
“The notices against RFE/RL and its director general have been filed due to a lack of (or improper) labels on the foreign agent media outlets’ resources,” Roskomnadzor said.
As of Wednesday, RFE/RL has been hit by fines totaling more than 39 million rubles ($528,000).
The head of RFE/RL’s Russian-language service has vowed to appeal every fine.
In addition to the financial penalties, the U.S.-funded organization faces website closures and prison time for employees under Russia’s newly tightened “foreign agent” law. Critics say the recent expansions to Russia’s 2012 “foreign agent” law are designed to stifle dissent ahead of this fall’s legislative elections.
Russia labeled RFE/RL and its regional affiliates “foreign agents” in 2017 after the United States required Kremlin-funded media to register under anti-propaganda laws.
The State Department has criticized the fines and the threat of prison time for RFE/RL’s contributors and affiliates as “intolerable.”
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers urged President Joe Biden in January to sanction Russia in retaliation to the restrictions on RFE/RL.