The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe expressed concern Friday about media freedom in Russia after the country's oldest media non-governmental organisation was included in a register of "foreign agents". "For the past 25 years the Glasnost Defence Foundation (GDF) and its president, Alexey Simonov, have been working tirelessly to protect and advocate for the rights of journalists in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States region," the OSCE's media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic said.
"GDF's internationally acknowledged efforts have been exemplary and labelling it as a 'foreign agent' is a serious obstruction to the important work media NGOs carry out and a threat to media pluralism in the Russian Federation." she said in a statement. Russia has upped pressure on NGOs since President Vladimir Putin's reelection in 2012, including with a law allowing authorities to brand groups engaging in "political activity" and that receive funding from abroad as "foreign agents".
Around 100 groups - ranging from some of Russia's leading rights groups to small regional organisations - have been caught up in the clampdown, including GDF this week. It forces groups on the list to include the label on material they publish and submit to strict official checks. While the law does not oblige organisations to close down, it can see them hit by fines if they do not comply. Some choose to reject foreign funding in a bid to get themselves taken off the list.
Proponents say the legislation is needed to stop Western plots to destabilise the country, but rights groups say it is reminiscent of Soviet repression and aimed at muzzling critics. "Media NGOs have been funded to assist Russian authorities and civil society in meeting their commitments related to media freedom," Mijatovic said. "I reiterate my call to stop this discriminatory practice that further narrows the space for free expression and media freedom in the country." The Vienna-based OSCE's 57 member states include Russia.