RFE/RL Files Urgent Complaint With ECHR Over Russia's 'Foreign Agent' Law, Fines

May 19, 2021 12:26 GMT

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has challenged Russia’s "foreign agent" law and the millions of dollars in fines levied on its Russian operations, arguing to the European Court of Human Rights that Moscow was violating its international obligations with the moves.

RFE/RL said it filed its complaint with the Strasbourg-based court on May 19 and called for its case to be granted priority status.

The company said the designation, and the punishing fines imposed, violate the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Moscow is a signatory.

“Left unchecked, Russia’s campaign of imposing such severe punishments on RFE/RL over its stand on labeling its content will have a profound chilling effect on what is left of the country’s independent media,” the company said in a statement.

The Russian Foreign Ministry did not have an immediate response to the filing.

First passed in 2012, Russia’s "foreign agent" law has been expanded over the years to target foreign-funded media organizations, as well as imposing criminal liability against individual reporters. Nine of RFE/RL’s news outlets have been designated foreign agents.

Under the law, designated news organizations are obligated to include, in print or broadcast, large labels identifying their news content.

RFE/RL has not complied with the rules, and Russian courts have instituted hundreds of cases, with fines totaling nearly $2.4 million. Last week, court bailiffs froze RFE/RL’s Moscow bank accounts and began procedures for seizing property and equipment in its Moscow bureau.

Press freedom and rights groups have criticized the law, which has also been used to target the Latvian-based news outlet Meduza, and the online portal VTimes, which is supported by a Dutch foundation.

Both Meduza and VTimes have begun publishing on social media and their websites large print, all-capital-letter, Russian-language identifiers.

Meduza has warned it faces bankruptcy as advertisers shun the outlet, and it has organized fundraising campaigns.

“Russian authorities should cease fining and harassing news outlets for alleged violations of its foreign agents law -- an unjust piece of legislation that should be repealed,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement on May 17.