The Kremlin’s war on independent journalism in Russia escalated after investigative media Proekt was banned in an act of revenge for a series of deeply embarrassing revelations about Vladimir Putin and senior Kremlin officials.
The rare move to ban a critical media outlet by decree is an indicator for the new wave of investigative media in Russia, which are competing to publish damaging scoops about senior officials and are now preparing for the Kremlin to exercise control. similar pressure on them to close.
State media reported Thursday that Russia’s Justice Ministry has added Proekt to a list of “unwanted organizations,” meaning its journalists must either stop working for the site or face criminal charges, and added eight journalists, including Proekt editor-in-chief Roman Badanin. , to a register of “foreign agents”. Several reporters from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and Open Media were also declared foreign agents.
It is illegal for other news agencies to link or directly cite material from an undesirable organization, which means, theoretically, that they should purge their records of any reference to Proekt’s work or possibly face up to it. to criminal charges. The statute would also prohibit any effort by Proekt for crowdfunding; their donors could also face charges.
The assault on Proekt on critical and independent media in Russia saw news sites like Meduza and VTimes declared foreign agents (the latter has since closed), journalists from the student newspaper DOXA on trial, the investigative arm of the ‘Alexei Navalny Anti-Corruption. Fund declared “extremist,” and demanded millions of dollars in fines against US-funded RFE / RL.
But this is the first time that a media outlet has been explicitly prohibited by law (the closest example is the shutdown of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s open Russia media branch) and seems to indicate how Proekt struck a chord in the media. Kremlin by investigating senior officials. and sensitive topics like Russia’s failed response to Covid-19 and its deployment of mercenaries in Africa.
Last week Badanin and two other Proekt employees were the target of house searches by police who said they were investigating a four-year-old slander case. But Proekt employees linked the searches to their plans to open a damning investigation into Home Secretary Vladimir Kolokoltsev, who alleged that his family members had become fabulously wealthy since his appointment in 2012 and that he was suspected of having links to organized crime.
Proekt has also published investigations into some of Putin’s most feared associates, including Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin. Using information on leaked property and passports, the website also claimed in an article last year that Putin had had a daughter from a secret mistress.
For years, businessmen who are friends of the Kremlin have bought out or restricted critical outlets, warning journalists not to cross the “double lines” or be fired.
But the emergence of new investigative bodies like Proekt, which reduced their footprint in Russia to avoid government pressure, left the government with fewer tools to control their production besides declaring them foreign agents, putting them bankrupt or look for other ways to shut them down.
Proekt did not immediately comment on the government’s decision on Thursday.