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Russian magazine branded ‘foreign agent’ because it has Western subscribers

Officials cited foreign embassies’ subscriptions as an explanation for the designation

Russia’s popular online magazine Republic has been labeled a foreign agent by the Ministry of Justice, in an unprecedented move, with officials citing the fact that embassies of other countries have subscriptions to the publication as the reason for the designation.

The outlet was given the tag in October, requiring it, among other things, to append a disclosure that it receives funding from foreign sources to all materials it publishes. At the time, Dmitry Kolezev, chief editor of the magazine, said that Republic was funded solely by subscribers and that he did not know why it had been given the label.

On Thursday, Kolezev posted on his Telegram channel, announcing that the Ministry of Justice had explained that it had designated Republic a foreign agent because foreign parties and media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal and the embassies of France and Kazakhstan, were paying for subscriptions to the website.

“In total, the Ministry found 178,500 rubles [about $2,330] of ‘foreign funding’ over two years,” Kolezev wrote. “We calculated that this is about 0.18% of our circulation.” He reported that there would soon be a trial over Republic’s foreign agent status, adding, “no illusions, of course, but the situation is funny.”

Kolezev went on to point out that other major publications in Russia are also likely to have subscriptions from foreign embassies. “Let’s just ban all foreigners from buying newspapers or magazines in Russia, since that is ‘foreign funding,’” he joked. “A citizen of Kyrgyzstan bought a copy of Zhizn at a kiosk – uh oh, that’s foreign funding!”

Read more

Russia could tighten ‘foreign agent’ rules

Republic mainly covers politics, business, and economics. Kolezev, who was named editor in June last year, previously worked at news site Znak.com, and has been known for his skepticism of Russian authorities, including criticizing the country’s Covid-19 response.

The “foreign agent” laws have come under fire from other media figures who say that they obstruct free speech, and last August, a group of journalists published an open letter decrying what they called “the persecution of independent journalism in this country.” In December, however, a group of MPs rejected claims that the measures infringe on civil rights, and indicated that they could be expanded further if deemed helpful to law enforcement.

Earlier in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the laws could stand to be reviewed with input from the “professional community,” and acknowledged that certain examples of their implementation were “comical, a completely excessive response.”

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