Russia's 'Foreign Agent' Law Targets Journalists, Activists, Even Ordinary Citizens The recently expanded law says that freelance journalists, YouTube bloggers and practically anyone else who receives money from abroad and voices a political opinion can be considered a foreign agent.

Russia's 'Foreign Agent' Law Targets Journalists, Activists, Even Ordinary Citizens

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At the end of last year, President Vladimir Putin signed new legislation that expanded the legal definition in Russia of who can be considered a foreign agent. The Justice Ministry is now labeling more than a dozen Russian citizens foreign agents, as NPR's Lucien Kim reports.

LUCIEN KIM, BYLINE: Darya Apakhonchich never considered herself a foreign agent. The 36-year-old mother of two from St. Petersburg taught Russian to refugees and took part in street performances on various political and social issues, such as violence against women.


DARYA APAKHONCHICH: (Singing in Russian).

KIM: But in December, she discovered her name was on a government list of foreign media agents because she'd received payments from organizations like the French college in St. Petersburg and had expressed her political opinions on social media.

APAKHONCHICH: (Speaking in Russian).

KIM: A month later, she says, the police came to her apartment early one morning, broke down the front door with a power saw and spent seven hours looking for extremist material.

Russia's law on foreign agents has been amended so that freelance journalists, YouTube bloggers and practically anyone else who receives money from abroad and voices a political opinion could be considered a foreign agent. Following the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny earlier this year, the Kremlin has been silencing all forms of dissent, often using the foreign agents law to target critical media.

Meduza, an independent news site founded by self-exiled Russian journalists in neighboring Latvia, was branded a foreign agent in April.

ALEXEY KOVALYOV: It's harder to talk to people now because a lot of people who would gladly speak to us are now wary of being associated with a foreign agent, which is a huge impediment.

KIM: That's Alexey Kovalyov, Meduza's investigations editor. The foreign agents designation also caused the site to lose most of its advertisers. But a crowdfunding campaign has saved Meduza, at least for a few months.

KOVALYOV: What happens after that, no one knows, really, because we don't know how sustainable this crowdfunding model is because we had to literally build it up overnight.

KIM: The Kremlin denies the foreign agents law is censorship. And Russian President Vladimir Putin compares it to the U.S. law on foreign agents.


VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: In a recent interview with NBC News, he said, much of Russian civil society gets its financing from abroad, which he called foreign interference that needs to be stopped.

MAXIM TRUDOLYUBOV: The way they perceive civil society is he who pays the piper calls the tune.

KIM: Maxim Trudolyubov, a contributing editor at Meduza, says, the Kremlin wants to deflect domestic criticism.

TRUDOLYUBOV: They decided for the public that the reasons for anything that goes wrong comes from the West, from abroad.

KIM: As for Darya Apakhonchich, the police raid made her decide it would be safer for now to move her family to neighboring Georgia.

APAKHONCHICH: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "I believe I was chosen to scare others," she says, "as a demonstration of what happens to people who work with foreigners."

In May, a court upheld her blacklisting, meaning Apakhonchich has to label anything she publishes, even a Facebook post, as the work of a foreign agent. She also has to submit quarterly reports to the Justice Ministry and risks fines and imprisonment if she makes a mistake.

APAKHONCHICH: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: One thing she won't do is be silent, Apakhonchich says, because even ordinary Russians who don't say anything can still have their homes raided, be interrogated and arrested.

Lucien Kim, NPR News, Moscow.


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