Roskomnadzor surveills the social media accounts of “foreign agents”

In Russia the first cases have been filed for failing to fulfill the obligations of the law on declaring individuals “media-foreign agents.” Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications regulator, has also begun an investigation into a journalist from the publication 7×7, a member of the Journalists’ Union, Sergei Markelov. Markelov had changed his Facebook profile picture, neglecting to label himself a “foreign agent” on it. This is a striking example of the absurdity and repressiveness of the law on “foreign agents” and of its implementation in practice.

Roskomnadzor interprets the proper labelling of a “foreign agent” as the statement of the following 24-word-phrase at the beginning of every message or post: “This message (material) was created and/or distributed by a foreign media outlet performing the functions of a foreign agent, and/or by a Russian legal entity performing the functions of a foreign agent”.

“I am not quite surprised that our government in the form of Roskomnadzor and the Ministry of Justice is beginning to seek out the most idiotic pretenses to show ‘foreign agents’—current and future—that they are under surveillance,” Markelov said. “What’s going on with journalists right now speaks to the fact that in the future it will all get worse and worse. You prepare yourself mentally, of course, for some kind of consequences, but every time when something happens, all the same you lose it a bit.” The journalist told us that he received no form of warning about the investigation.

The absurdity is only heightened by the fact that Markelov’s status as a “media foreign agent” is suspended at the present moment, while his appeal case is working its way through the court. This means that the journalist should not have to accompany his social media posts and other publications with a notation about the fact that he is a “foreign agent.” The appeal is not scheduled to be heard until 13 November 2021.

In another striking example, the human rights activist Lev Ponomarev was cited for an administrative offense for the fact that he allegedly partially failed to reveal his status as a “media foreign agent” when he posted a “Congratulations!” to the chief editor of Novaya Gazeta, Dmitrii Muratov, for winning the Nobel Prize.

Just one year ago there was not a single name or organization in the registry of “media foreign agents.” Sergei Markelov and Lev Ponomarev were included in the first five individual “foreign agents” on 28 December 2020. Now the list grows practically every week. At the present moment, the Ministry of Justice has placed 56 people and 29 legal entities on its black list—that is, 85 people or organizations in all.

If the authorities continue to “label” all those who are undesirable at this rate, very soon all independent media and journalists, as well as NGOs and even informal public associations, will appear on the list of “foreign agents.”

The Journalists’ and Media Workers’ Union demands a swift cessation to the persecution of our colleagues and to the labelling of “foreign agents” that not only interferes with their work, but also their personal lives. This instrument of control on the part of the state is an extrajudicial persecution of journalists for their professional activity.

More than 230 editorial offices and NGOs, including the JMWU, have started a petition demanding the repeal of the “foreign agent” law. The petition has already been signed by over 180,000 people.

Journalism is not a crime!