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'Undesirable' In Russia: What Does The Label Mean And What Are The Consequences?

Current Time is a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
Current Time is a Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

The Russian Justice Ministry has included Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on its register of "undesirable organizations," a decision made by the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office on February 20.

In total, there are now more than 140 organizations on Russia's “undesirable” list. In addition to media outlets, organizations engaged in political, cultural, and educational activities, support for democratic institutions, as well as religious organizations are included.

Russian citizens face up to five years in prison for cooperating with “undesirable” organizations or aiding in their financing within Russia.

What is RFE/RL?

RFE/RL is a private, nonprofit American media corporation funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the United States Agency for Global Media. RFE/RL operates in 27 languages in 23 countries -- mainly for audiences in countries where media freedom is limited.

What does it mean to be labeled an "undesirable" organization in Russia?

When Russia names an organization “undesirable,” it is claiming that the organization is a threat to the country’s national security. However, experts say it is just an attempt by Russian authorities to snuff out any voices that don’t align with the Kremlin’s views.

What are the consequences for organizations that are labeled undesirable?

Organizations have to completely stop their work inside Russia or face heavy fines and criminal repercussions. Furthermore, any citizens or entities that cooperate with an organization deemed “undesirable” face a potential fine on their first violation. If the cooperation continues after the administrative warning, the individual could face criminal charges with a maximum punishment of up to five years in prison.

What news outlets and investigative projects have been declared "undesirable"?

Aside from RFE/RL, Dozhd TV (TV Rain), Meduza, Novaya Gazeta Europe, Proekt, iStories, Vazhniye Istorii, The Insider, and Bellingcat have all been declared “undesirable.”

How does the designation impact a news organization’s work?

The designation hinders, but does not stop, a news agency’s ability to write stories about Russia. Anyone inside Russia sending news tips to such news organizations or giving interviews face possible administrative and criminal responsibility. It will force people inside Russia who want to speak to such news organizations to do so anonymously.

Russia Declares RFE/RL An 'Undesirable Organization,' Threatening Prosecution For Reporters, Sources
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What are the consequences for Russian readers of such news organizations?

People inside Russia can continue to legally read material published by news organizations declared “undesirable.” However, they cannot share, repost, or include hyperlinks to any future or past material by those news organizations.

What if a Russian shared a link before an organization was declared "undesirable"?

Russian citizens run the risk of administrative and criminal responsibility if their social media pages have links to material from an “undesirable” organization, regardless if the post was made years before the law on “undesirable” organizations even came into effect.

Lawyers recommend Russian citizens scroll through all their social media pages and delete any links to such organizations.

What is the difference between the "foreign agent" law and the "undesirable organization" law?

The so-called "foreign agent" law requires any person or entity the government claims “is under foreign influence” to publicly identify themselves as such with labels, and to submit to cumbersome audits.

Experts say the goal of the "foreign agents" law is to tarnish the image of any organization or individual critical of the Kremlin and drive them out of business. Commercial news organizations who were declared "foreign agents" immediately lost Russian advertisers, with some going out of business.

The “undesirable” label essentially finishes off the existence inside Russia of any organization that survived the "foreign agent" designation.

Russia in 2017 declared RFE/RL and Voice of America as “foreign agents” and demanded the two news organizations prominently label all content, including social media posts, as produced by “foreign agents.” RFE/RL and VOA refused to label their content in that way.

RFE/RL suspended its operations in Russia in March 2022 after local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity and police intensified pressure on its journalists. RFE/RL refused to pay multiple fines totaling more than 1 billion rubles ($14 million) for noncompliance with the "foreign agent" law.

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RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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