In a flurry of overnight notifications, Russian state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor threatened to block eight RFE/RL websites serving audiences in Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia unless they immediately pulled down articles tied to corruption investigations by jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.
Roskomnadzor sent more than 60 e-mail notifications demanding that content related to Navalny investigations be removed from RFE/RL’s two largest websites for Russian audiences — Radio Liberty and Current Time — as well as RFE/RL’s Russian-language sites for Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, as well as local sites for Russia’s Siberian, Volga-Ural, and Northwestern regions.
Among the content were corruption investigations related to the Black Sea “palace” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin-linked businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, and other high-ranking figures in Russia’s power structures.
RFE/RL was given 24 hours to remove dozens of articles, which Roskomnadzor says represent a violation of Russia’s antiextremism and antiterrorism legislation.
RFE/RL will not comply with the demand, which RFE/RL President Jamie Fly condemned as an act of “political censorship.”
“RFE/RL will not allow the Kremlin to dictate our editorial decisions. This is a blatant act of political censorship by a government apparently threatened by journalists who are merely reporting the truth,” Fly said in a statement.
Roskomnadzor has made similar demands recently to more than a dozen Russian publications, including the newspaper Novaya gazeta.
Novaya gazeta said on February 3 that it had acted on the request and removed materials related to Navalny’s “Putin’s Palace” investigation as well as a report on the business activities of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s former son-in-law.
In their place, the newspaper posted a statement noting that the reports had been deleted at Roskomnadzor’s request. It made no further comment.
The move comes just four months after Novaya gazeta Editor in Chief Dmitry Muratov was a co-recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for his “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.”
The Dozhd television channel said on February 1 that it too was ordered to remove six reports, while the Ekho Moskvy radio station said 34 articles were targeted. Several other media outlets said they received the notices as well.
Roskomnadzor explained the move by saying it was following last year’s court decision labeling all of Navalny’s groups and organizations as “extremist.”
Navalny, an outspoken Kremlin critic, was arrested in January 2021 upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — accusations that Russian officials reject.
He is currently serving a 2 1/2-year prison sentence after violating parole during his recovery on embezzlement charges that he says were trumped up because of his political activities.
In June 2021, the Moscow City Court declared all organizations linked to Navalny “extremist,” preventing people associated with Navalny and his network of regional offices across Russia from seeking public office.
The ruling against his organizations also carries possible lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with them.
Human Rights Watch said in December that Russian authorities had “redoubled their efforts” over the past year to repress online freedoms, citing the blocking of tools used to circumvent censorship, expanding “oppressive” Internet laws, and pressure on tech companies to comply with “increasingly stifling regulations.”
The latest move comes amid increasing pressure against RFE/RL and other independent media organizations and journalists who have been designated “foreign agents” by the Russian Justice Ministry. Nine of RFE/RL’s Russian-language websites and 18 of its Russian-national journalists have been branded “foreign agents.”