Article 19 supports the Moscow bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL LLC) in its petition today to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on an urgent basis, asking the court to grant interim measures ordering the Russian Federation to refrain from enforcing the 520 “administrative protocols” that it has brought or threatened against the media organisation since January 2021 under Russia’s Foreign Agents Law. These interim measures, if granted, would be in place until the court can rule on the lawfulness of the Russian Government’s unprecedented actions.
Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia for Article 19 said, “We hope that the European Court can quickly grant interim measures in this case. The administrative protocols brought under Russia’s Foreign Agent Law against RFE/RL are purely designed to suppress freedom of expression and information. The cumulative impact of these fines would have dire financial impact on RFE/RL one of the last remaining independent news outlets in the country reporting in the Russian language on matters of public interest.”
In its petition to the ECtHR, RFE/RL LLC argues that Russia’s actions violate the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that if the Court does not act now, RFE/RL LLC and its general director, Andrey Shary, will suffer irreversible harms. RFE/RL LLC also warns that, left unchecked, the Kremlin’s campaign will have a profound chilling effect on what is left of the independent media in the Russian Federation. The Court has granted interim measures in the past where there have been allegations of governmental interference with the media.
In late 2017, eight of RFE/RL’s news outlets were designated “foreign agents” by the Russian Ministry of Justice under the country’s controversial foreign agent law. The law has been condemned by the European Parliament and other international bodies as an infringement of fundamental freedoms. RFE/RL and its news services are the only international media outlets with a physical presence in the Russian Federation to have been designated “foreign agents.”
Since October 30, 2020, Russia’s media and telecommunications agency, Roskomnadzor, has ordered foreign media organizations designated as “foreign agents” to label every news article, social media post, and piece of audio-visual content with a prominent written warning (or 15-second oral statement) that the media content has been created by a foreign media outlet “performing the functions of a foreign agent.” While RFE/RL has complied with all of its legal obligations under the foreign agents law, it has declined to implement this new labelling requirement, which is clearly intended to damage its reputation and viability as an independent media organization in Russia.
Roskomnadzor’s response has been to issue 390 administrative cases against RFE/RL LLC and Mr. Shary in the Russian courts over a period of three months, with fines totaling over RUB 107.25 million (approximately US $1,430,000). Tomorrow, Roskomnadzor is due to begin filing an additional 130 cases against RFE/RL LLC and Mr. Shary, with additional fines estimated at RUB 71.5 million (nearly US $1 million). If the fines proceed at the present rate, they are likely to reach RUB 2.5 billion (approximately US $33 million) by the end of the year.
RFE/RL has appealed every one of the hundreds of cases, but not a single court has upheld RFE/RL’s legal challenges or decreased the levels of the fines imposed by Roskomnadzor. Beginning on May 2, 2021, RFE/RL and Mr. Shary will become liable for a series of fines that will soon reach US $2,430,000. If these fines are not paid, the Russian authorities have the power to place RFE/RL into insolvency and/or to block access to its media sites. Mr. Shary faces the prospect of a prison sentence of up to two years and personal bankruptcy.