The Russian government has stepped up its repressions against journalists by declaring Meduza, the country's largest independent media outlet, an "undesirable organisation" on January 26.
This status carries a potential criminal sentence of up to five years for anyone who co-operates with Meduza or publishes links to its articles.
On January 26 the Russian Prosecutor General's Office announced that the activities of Meduza's publisher, the Latvian SIA Medusa Project based in Riga, have been deemed undesirable. The work of Meduza “poses a threat to the foundations of the constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation,” the office stated. The Ministry of Justice will enter the Medusa Project into the appropriate register.
Upon entry into the registry, the organisation must stop all operations in Russia. Any co-operation with it can result in fines under article 20.33 of the Code of Administrative Offences, and in case of repeated violation – a criminal case under article 284.1 of the Criminal Code, which carries a sentence of up to four years in prison for participating in the work of an "undesirable organisation" and up to five years for its financing.
Many of the opposition publications that have relocated to other countries, and the Baltics is one of the most popular destinations, continue to maintain staff in Russia itself. Meduza’s reporters in Russia now face possible lengthy jail sentences if they continue their work.
Citizens are now prohibited from even indirectly participating in the activities of Meduza, under threat of fines or criminal prosecution. This includes financing the organisation and distributing its materials in any form.
The opposition publications have also been funding themselves using crowdfunding sites, but now Russians who subscribe or send them money are also liable to prosecution.
The Centre for the Protection of Media Rights advises users to remove previously published active links to materials of an “undesirable organisation”, as publication on the internet is considered a continuing offence. However, State Duma deputy Alexander Khinshtein stated that citizens will first receive a notification from Roskomnadzor before penalties are applied, The Bell reports.
Meduza is the fourth Russian media outlet to be given the status of an "undesirable organisation." The first three were investigative publications Proekt, Important Stories and The Insider, which published articles on sensitive material.