More than 150 media and nongovernmental organizations in Russia have launched a petition urging the authorities to cancel the controversial “foreign agent” law, which is widely seen as a tool used by the Kremlin to stifle civil society and independent media.
The Russian law, first passed in 2012 and amended several times since, requires designated media organizations to label all of their content with an intrusive disclaimer.
The petition says that, since January, the Justice Ministry has added six media outlets, 20 journalists, and seven NGOs to the registry of "foreign agents." Between 2013 and 2020, a total of 221 groups and individuals were put on the list.
As of September 14. almost 8,000 people had signed the petition, which is located on the Change.org website.
"We consider the ongoing situation as an action of the state's pressure on media and public organizations. The law itself and the way it is being used aim to weaken civil society institutions," the statement says. "The law on foreign agents must be fully annulled."
The designation carries ominous Soviet-era connotations and comes with onerous labeling requirements that have threatened the financing of some media outlets.
Some media have complied, even amid fears that the labels would scare off advertisers. At least one designated Russian news outlet has closed, while Meduza has resorted to crowdfunding to continue operating.
The designation has also gained in prominence as Russians prepare to head to the polls for elections on September 17-19.
Some critics say that with support for the Kremlin-backed United Russia party slumping badly, officials are using the law to muzzle the voices of opposition candidates by curbing independent media outlets.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and several of its Russian-language news sites, including its flagship Russian-language television channel, Current Time, are on the registry.
RFE/RL has not labeled its content, resulting in the Justice Ministry imposing tens of millions of dollars in fines. RFE/RL has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and has also moved to shift some of its employees and operations out of Moscow to Kyiv and elsewhere.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has said that Russia is attempting to fine RFE/RL's Moscow bureau out of existence with the penalties.