The Russian Ministry of Justice added three journalists—including Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov—to its list of so-called “foreign agents,” on September 1, 2023. (AFP/Dimitar Dilkoff)

Russia labels 3 more journalists – including Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov – as ‘foreign agents’ 

New York, September 8, 2023—Russian authorities should stop intimidating outlets and journalists by labeling them as “foreign agents” and let them work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On September 1, the Russian Ministry of Justice added three journalists—including Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov—to its list of so-called “foreign agents,” accusing them of helping create and distribute “messages and materials” from foreign agents “to an unlimited number of people.” 

In addition to Muratov, the Russia-based editor-in-chief of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta who was awarded the 2021 Nobel peace prize, the list included Denis Kataev, a journalist with exiled broadcaster Dozhd TV (TV Rain) and French broadcaster Radio France; and Ksenia Larina, a journalist with investigative outlet The Insider. Kataev and Larina live outside Russia.

Since 2021, Russian authorities have labeled dozens of media outlets and more than 100 journalists as “foreign agents.” Independent news website Verstka reported that “journalists and media representatives have become the largest professional group” in the foreign agents’ register.

“Russian authorities keep stubbornly using the ‘foreign agent’ designation to undermine independent reporting and obstruct the work of journalists,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian authorities should not contest Dmitry Muratov’s appeal against the designation and immediately repeal their legislation on so-called ‘foreign agents.’”

In December 2022, Russian authorities passed a law that created a consolidated foreign agents register and imposed restrictions on those listed.

Individuals designated as “foreign agents” must regularly submit detailed reports of their activities and expenses to authorities, and their status must be listed whenever they produce content or are mentioned in news articles, according to the law. Noncompliance could lead to a two-year prison sentence.

Russian authorities did not cite any specific reporting in their accusations, but alleged that Larina participated in “activities aimed at forming anti-Russian views,” and that Kataev “distributed unreliable information” about the Russian authorities’ decisions and policies and worked for a French media outlet. Muratov was accused of using “foreign platforms to distribute opinions aimed at forming a negative attitude towards Russia’s foreign and domestic policy.”

CPJ could not determine whether Kataev and Larina plan to contest their listings as messages to the journalists did not receive a reply. 

On Monday, September 4, Novaya Gazeta told its subscribers that Muratov plans to contest the Ministry of Justice’s decision and is stepping down as the outlet’s chief editor pending the court proceedings.

Muratov’s assistant told CPJ that the journalist declined to comment. CPJ’s email to the Russian Ministry of Justice did not receive a response.

In 2007, CPJ honored Muratov with its International Press Freedom Award. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in October 2021 that Muratov would not be labeled a “foreign agent” if he did not use the Nobel prize “as a shield” and did not violate Russian law.

“It is sad that Russian authorities are now trying to silence him. The accusations against him are politically motivated,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said in a Monday statement.

Since July 2022, the Russian prosecutor’s office has added Novaya Gazeta Europe, Dozhd TV, and The Insider to their list of “undesirable” organizations. 

Organizations classified as undesirable are banned from operating in Russia, and anyone who participates in them or works to organize their activities faces up to six years in prison and administrative fines. The designation also makes it a crime to distribute the outlet’s content or donate to it from inside or outside Russia.

Novaya Gazeta Europe is a Latvia-based outlet launched in April 2022 by former Novaya Gazeta journalists, many of whom fled following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and subsequent criminalization of “false information” about the Russian military. 

In September 2022, Russian authorities labeled Kirill Martynov, Novaya Gazeta Europe’s chief editor, a “foreign agent” and stripped Novaya Gazeta of its print and online licenses.