Meduza director Galina Timchenko listens during an interview in Riga, Latvia in March 2015. The Russian general prosecutor’s office declared the activity of Meduza “undesirable” and a “threat to the foundations'' of Russia’s constitutional order and security on January 26, 2023. (Reuters/Ints Kalnins)

Russian authorities outlaw independent outlet Meduza

Paris, January 26, 2023 — Russian authorities should let the independent news website Meduza work freely and should cease banning outlets and labeling them as undesirable organizations and foreign agents, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On Thursday, January 26, the Russian general prosecutor’s office declared the activity of the Medusa Project, the news website’s legal entity, “undesirable” and a “threat to the foundations” of Russia’s constitutional order and security, according to multiple news reports and the prosecutor’s website.

Organizations that receive such a classification are banned from operating in Russia, and anyone who participates in them or works to organize their activities faces up to six years of imprisonment and administrative fines.

“By banning Meduza by putting multiple labels on it and blocking its website, Russian authorities are showing that they will do anything to impede the work of one of the leading independent Russian-language media outlets,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must overhaul the country’s regulations on undesirable organizations and foreign agents, and let all media outlets work freely.”

Meduza, which is based outside of Russia, covers various topics, including politics, social issues, culture, and the war in Ukraine.

The move is an escalation from the previous designation of Meduza as a “foreign agent” in April 2021 and the blocking of its website in early March 2022, following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“This is a very bad event. We are de facto outlawed in Russia,” Meduza editor-in-chief Ivan Kolpakov told CPJ via messaging app, adding that it was now “forbidden not only to give us interviews or comments, but even to publish links to our articles.”

“Nevertheless, we were waiting for this to happen – and we tried to prepare ourselves, morally and organization-wise,” Kolpakov told CPJ. “Meduza will carry on its work. The stronger the pressure, the stronger our resistance.”

The designation makes it a crime to distribute the outlet’s content or donate to it from inside or outside Russia, according to reports and the Mass Media Defense Center, a Russian group that provides legal aid to journalists and news outlets.

“We fear for our readers,” wrote Meduza’s editorial staff in a January 26 statement. “We fear for those who have collaborated with Meduza over the years. We fear for our loved ones and friends. Still, we believe in what we do.”

According to Mass Media Defense Center director Galina Arapova, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, the Russian authorities’ goal is “to create insurmountable difficulties” for Meduza’s work “so that the voices of Meduza journalists would cease to be heard, and readers would be afraid to read it.”

“But I don’t think they will achieve that goal,” Arapova said. “Meduza is probably the strongest and most professional independent Russian publication, operating from a different jurisdiction. No amount of labeling will undermine their already established professional reputation.”

In July 2022, President Vladimir Putin signed a law imposing criminal punishment on individuals working abroad with organizations that the government has labeled “undesirable” within Russia, according to reports

In July 2021, independent investigative outlet Proekt was the first Russian outlet to be classified as “undesirable.” In 2022, authorities declared three investigative outlets–iStories, The Insider, and Bellingcat–as undesirable, according to news reports.

“All of the media that were previously considered undesirable…have not only survived, but are actively developing,” Arapova said. “Their teams are growing, the number of subscribers is increasing. This means that the methods used by the authorities to put pressure on them have proven ineffective.”

Meduza director Galina Timchenko received CPJ’s Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award in November 2022.

CPJ’s call to the Russian general prosecutor’s office was not answered.