Russia named independent news outlet Meduza an “undesirable” organization Thursday, effectively banning its work in the country. Meduza has the biggest audience of any independent media source, attracting tens of millions of readers to its site every month (by comparison, The Bell’s Russian-language site has just over one million readers).
- Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office ruled that Meduza’s activities “represent a threat to the constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation.” For any organization, “undesirable” status means that anyone who cooperates with it, even from abroad, could face criminal prosecution and up to four years in prison. Individuals who contribute funds to undesirable organizations could also face criminal charges and up to five years in jail.
- Sharing “undesirable” content is also illegal. A first offense can attract a fine, and repeat offenses could lead to up to four years behind bars. However, the authorities say that users linking to Meduza’s work will initially only be asked to take down the offending link. Further punishment would follow in the event of a refusal to comply.
- Meduza was named a “foreign agent” several years ago — but that allows businesses to continue working, albeit under certain legal restrictions (for example, the publication has to publish a “foreign agent” banner on its work). Lawyers believe “undesirable” status makes it extremely hard for Meduza to continue to operate.
- In a statement, Meduza’s editors promised to continue their work. “Russia will be free,” they wrote. “Those who should go to hell have already long been there.”
Why the world should care
Meduza isn’t Russia’s only “undesirable” media outlet. Independent outlets Proekt, iStories and The Insider have all been branded with the same status — but all three continue to operate. However, Meduza is much bigger. And, when Meduza was designated a “foreign agent,” the authorities then proceeded to attach this label to practically all other independent media outlets. We may be seeing the beginning of this process repeating itself with the “undesirable” label. Declaring Meduza “undesirable” is a warning to all other journalists: if you wish to continue working independently, you will be outlawed in Russia.