Russia Labels RFE/RL ‘Undesirable Organization’

WASHINGTON — The Russian government on Tuesday labeled VOA’s sister outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as an “undesirable organization” in a move that underscores the Kremlin’s harsh repression of media.

The new designation opens RFE/RL staffers, donors and sources to criminal charges, the Prague-based outlet reported.

The outlet was added to a registry of “undesirable organizations” maintained by Russia’s Ministry of Justice, becoming the 142nd organization to be labeled that way.

RFE/RL President Stephen Capus said the designation “is just the latest example of how the Russian government views truthful reporting as an existential threat.”

“Millions of Russians have relied on us for decades — including record-breaking audiences over the past few days since the death of Aleksei Navalny — and this attempt to stifle us will only make RFE/RL work harder to bring free and independent journalism to the Russian people,” Capus said in a statement.

Russia’s Washington embassy did not immediately reply to a VOA email requesting comment.

Russia’s “undesirable organization” law was adopted in 2015. Dozens of media organizations have been labeled as “undesirable” since 2021, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Among them are Meduza, Novaya Gazeta Europe and Bellingcat.

Moscow has targeted RFE/RL for years.

In 2017, Russian authorities labeled the outlet a so-called “foreign agent.” Since then, RFE/RL has refused to pay multiple fines totaling more than $14 million for not complying with the law.

The foreign agent law came into effect in 2012, and since then it has been used to target groups and individuals critical of the Kremlin. Russia has declared VOA a “foreign agent” as well.

More than 30 RFE/RL employees have also been listed as “foreign agents.”

RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva has been jailed in Russia since October 2023 on charges of failing to register as a so-called “foreign agent.”

A dual U.S.-Russian national, Kurmasheva traveled to Russia in May 2023 for a family emergency. When she tried to leave the country in June, her passports were confiscated. She was detained while waiting for them to be returned.

In addition to the foreign agent charge, Kurmasheva is also facing accusations of spreading false information about the Russian army. If convicted, she faces a combined sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

Kurmasheva and her employer reject the charges against her.

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