ARTICLE 19 condemns the decision by the Russian authorities to declare the Mass Media Defence Centre (MMDC) as a ‘foreign agent’, as part of an on-going crackdown on the country’s civil society.
“ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Russian authorities to refrain from their harassment of the Mass Media Defence Centre, which provides a vital service to many in the defence of media freedom in Russia,” stated Thomas Hughes, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director.
“The label ‘foreign agent’ – which is often understood by the public to mean ‘spy’ due to its usage in Soviet times– is completely at odds with the work MMDC, which it carries out to improve conditions for Russian journalists and others targeted for exercising their universal right to freedom of expression. We urge the authorities to overturn this decision with immediate effect.”
MMDC was informed on Friday 20 February, that it would be placed on the register of “foreign agents.” MMDC, based in the city of Voronezh, is the only Russian NGO specialising in media law, as well as providing legal assistance and protecting media rights on a daily basis. Following an inspection earlier in the month by the Justice Department of the Voronezh region,
The register is a result of legislation introduced in 2012, which requires non-government organisations that receive funding from abroad and engage in loosely defined ‘political activity’ to register as ‘foreign agents’ and comply with additional requirements or face sanctions. These include heavy fines and even prison sentences for an organisation’s director.
Since early 2013, hundreds of NGOs have been subjected to unannounced inspections by government officials interrupting and obstructing their legitimate work. Many respected organisations have been forced to close or re-form as voluntary groups. The decision against MMDC, is part of a renewed crackdown in recent months, which is serving a severe blow to an already beleaguered civil society in Russia.
ARTICLE 19 and MMDC
ARTICLE 19 and MMDC have cooperated on numerous projects over the last decade connected to media freedom in Russia. Established in 1996, MMDC conducts research on violations of journalists’ professional rights; analyses media legislation; conducts legal practice on violations of the rights to freedom of information and expression, including before the European Court of Human Rights; and holds educational events for journalists, judges, media lawyers and law enforcement bodies.
MMDC’s Director, Galina Arapova, a well-respected and renowned expert media lawyer has also been a member of ARTICLE 19’s international board since 2001, and was recently appointed vice-chair.
“Galina’s contribution, both to ARTICLE 19 and to freedom of expression worldwide, is invaluable. In a voluntary capacity, she has provided oversight and direction for ARTICLE 19 for a number of years and is clearly recognised not only as a Russian expert, but as a global leader in her field,” added Hughes.
Arapova is also a member of the International Media Lawyers Association, chair of the Public Council of Voronezh Regional Police Department and a member of Voronezh City public Chamber. She is the author of a number of publications on media law and has lectured at several academic institutions. In 2011, the Russian Union of Journalists recognised Arapova with the “Golden Pen” award for her unwavering defence of media in the country.