January 27, 2023

Meduza Declared Undesirable


Meduza Declared Undesirable
Julian Paolo

“This is not a strong government, but a weak one. A strong government does not fight journalists, does not shut down its critics, does not blame the mirror. Journalism cannot be a crime.

– Journalist Dmitry Kolezev

On January 26, Russia’s Prosecutor General declared the popular publication Meduza an “undesirable” organization.

“It has been established,” the office said, “that its activities pose a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation.”

Meduza, based in Latvia, was in 2021 declared a “foreign agent.” When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the internet publication was blocked, such that Russian readers had to use a VPN to access it. Today, the publication is one of the world’s leading Russian language media outlets, with over 9 million monthly readers of its website, and 1.3 million readers on its Telegram channel, according to Meduza data.

What the move means is that the publication is banned from operating on Russian soil. But the wider implication is that the declaration criminalizes the publication’s audience, turning anyone who promotes the publication, even by simply sharing a link to one of its articles, into a criminal. Specifically, as Meduza summarized in an article about the implications of the move:

  • If you live in Russia or are planning to travel there, you should remove all reposts or shares of Meduza from your social media feeds. There is a R15,000 fine for a first offense of sharing Meduza posts, and a repeat offense can lead to criminal charges. As reported by OVD-Info, many Russians are already being prosecuted for similar actions.
  • Russians sending donations to support Meduza can be criminally charged even for a first offense. If a Russian citizen (or someone planning to travel there) has posted on social media explaining how to support Meduza or encouraging others to do so, one should delete that. This makes it all the more important for non-Russians to support Meduza with their donations. You may do that here.
  • If you are a foreign citizen with Russian friends, for now you should not send your friends links to Meduza articles, nor send them screenshots of same. Communicating via Telegram is also advised, as that can be more secure from prying organs.

Since the start of 2022, the prosecutor’s office has declared 12 other organizations to be “undesirable.” This includes various human rights groups, a group fighting corruption, and several media publications. Meduza is now the thirteenth to bear this proud, yet difficult moniker.

In related news:

  • On January 25, the Moscow City Court approved a request by the Ministry of Justice to terminate the activities of the Moscow Helsinki Group in Russia. The Helsinki Group is the oldest human rights organization in Russia, founded in May 1976. The ministry alleged that the Helsinki Group was violating the law on public organizations by acting outside the bounds of Moscow region.
  • On January 24, The Moscow Department of City Property notified the Sakharov Center that its lease agreements on the center’s main building, an exhibition hall, and the apartment where Academician Andrei Sakharov lived have been terminated. The move was predicated on the rule that organizations declared “foreign agents,” which is the case with the Sakharov Center, cannot receive any state support. The human rights organization had been occupying its Moscow premises rent-free since the early 1990s.

“Today, the history of the center, as it was for a quarter of a century, is coming to an end,” the Sakharov Center said in a press release. “An island of freedom is impossible in modern Russia, which has not only turned away from the legacy of Sakharov, but also from the entire domestic tradition of humanism, the pursuit of truth and justice.”

The editorial board of Meduza, meanwhile, was defiant in the face of its ostracism by the Kremlin. “We believe in what we do,” the editors wrote. “We believe in free speech. And we believe in a democratic Russia. The greater the pressure against us and our values, the harder we will resist.”

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