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ECtHR: Russia's “foreign agents” act violates European Convention on Human Rights

Photo: Famous Russian rapper Morgenshtern (left) and Yury Dud, one of Russia's most popular journalists,
both of whom were recently labeled “foreign agents”

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has established the incompatibility of the Russian Foreign Agents Act with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). As noted by the team of former human rights group Memorial (liquidated on April 5, 2022, by a court decision), the judgment was passed in the case of Ecodefense and Others v. Russia.

As the court concluded, the quality of the law is not compliant with the Convention, and its application is not necessary in a democratic society. The concepts of “political activity” and “foreign funding” are not foreseeable enough and lack safeguards against their potential abuse.

Russia passed the law on “foreign agent” media in 2017. Under this law, any media outlet that received funding or property from abroad could be labeled a “foreign agent”. In 2019, the law was amended to apply to individuals as well as legal entities.

Since December 2020, individuals and unregistered public associations that receive funding from abroad may also be labeled “foreign agents” for “political activity” in Russia, which de facto implies engaging in any public debate on the activity of any government agency. Furthermore, penalties for violating the Foreign Agents Act were increased on March 1, 2021, to include both administrative fines and criminal liability of up to five years in prison.

Over the past few years, a few hundred media outlets, NGOs, and individuals have been registered as “foreign agents”. The first five individuals – human rights defender Lev Ponomarev, journalists Lyudmila Savitskaya, Sergei Markelov and Denis Kamalyagin, and civic activist Darya Apakhonchich – were placed on the list on December 28, 2020. A short while later, the “foreign agent” status was imposed on Meduza and the First Anti-Corruption Media. On May 14, VTimes received a similar notification, which resulted in the editorial office deciding to close down the publication.

Last summer, The Insider (which you are currently reading), Dozhd, and Important Stories were labeled “foreign agents”, along with a few dozen journalists from various publications. On September 29, the list was extended to include OVD-Info, Mediazona, its publisher Petr Verzilov and editor-in-chief Sergei Smirnov. In April 2022, The Insider's editor-in-chief Roman Dobrokhotov, writer Viktor Shenderovich, rapper Face, and journalists Sergei Parkhomenko and Yury Dud also joined the ranks of “foreign agents”. In May, rapper Morgenshtern received the status.

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