This is how democracy is stifled in Russia ahead of elections
A Russian court on Wednesday named Navalny FBK’s anti-corruption organization “extremist” under a law that came into effect on June 4. The law in Russian media is called “anti-FBK law”.
Tens of thousands of people who have supported Navalny’s network are now at risk of being affected in various ways. The law prohibits those who have held leadership positions in the FBK from running for office at all levels for the next five years.
Other FBK members cannot stand for election for the next three years. An FBK member is someone who has expressed support for the organization, for example via the Internet, through donations or by participating in events.
On May 31, Andrei Pivovarov, the former head of the opposition organization Open Russia, was arrested. He is accused of collaboration with an “undesirable” organization, which is punishable by law. Pivovarov himself links the arrest to his ambitions to run in the legislative elections this fall.
The Law on Unwanted Organizations was passed in 2015, prohibiting foreign groups deemed to threaten Russia’s national interests. There are currently more than 20 such organizations.
Open Russia is a Russian organization and therefore cannot be marked as spam. However, Open Russia has ties to two UK organizations on the list.
In addition, the Russian government has proposed changes to the law that would allow more organizations to access the list and members could face longer prison terms.
This raised concerns about an open Russia, and on May 27 it was announced that operations would be closed in Russia due to the risk of retaliation from the authorities.
In recent months, two Russian media companies have been labeled “foreign workers”, hampering their operations.
In April, the Meduza news site was flagged as a foreign agent. Meduza is officially based in Latvia, but many of its journalists live in Russia. The site is one of the few news services operating in Russia, independent from the Kremlin and funded from abroad.
The seal led to the newspaper losing many advertisers and, as a result, Meduza closed its offices in Riga and Moscow and cut the salaries of its employees by up to 50%.
VTimes is another online magazine that was recently named a “foreign agent”. The management of the editorial board recently decided to close the magazine on June 12, after considering the risks associated with the classification for employees. The magazine has been active for six months.
The “Foreign Customers” law was introduced in 2012 and extended in 2017 to media organizations. Media companies that are part of the consortium must mention this in all their publications, including online. It is also subject to more stringent accounting requirements.
If regulations are not followed, companies face fines of up to the equivalent of SEK 500,000. Sites can also be blocked in Russia.
New amendments to the Education Law give authorities the right to monitor so-called media activities. In addition, all international cooperation agreements with educational institutions must be approved by the authorities, with the exception of student exchanges.
“Public information” is a loose term that can include conferences, websites, festivals, pub quizzes, film screenings and study tours, often organized by voluntary organizations. Critics of the drafting of the future decree, which defines the content of the law, believe that business will be negatively affected because such strict requirements are placed on regulators.
Schools already have a lot of bureaucracy and they don’t want more. It will be difficult to convince them to do so. Few of them will want to cooperate and receive us, says Evgeny Nasirov, CEO of the non-profit organization Lapa, which carries out media activities in Russia.
The law went into effect on June 1, but will be rewritten after strong criticism. How and when the new proposal will be submitted is unclear.