By Maria Tsvetkova
MOSCOW – A dozen opposition candidates for Russia’s September parliamentary election met scores of journalists in Moscow on Saturday with a message of resistance against the Kremlin’s squeezing of independent media.
Authorities have designated nearly 50 journalists and media “foreign agents”: a term they say denotes foreign-funded outlets with political bias but which critics denounce as a throwback to Soviet-style persecution.
“(President Vladimir) Putin set up a goal for himself: all media have to be destroyed because they are bothering him,” Marina Litvinovich, one of the opposition candidates, told a crowd of about 200 people, mostly journalists.
“My friends, we have to resist while we can. Many media will have to go underground.”
The Kremlin denies persecuting media for political reasons.
Critics, however, say the Putin government has regressed to repressive tactics of Communist rule in the old Soviet Union.
“There was a time when they used the label ‘enemies of the people’. Now it is ‘foreign agents’,” pensioner Marina Artamonova told Reuters at Saturday’s gathering, referring to a widely-used label during Josef Stalin’s dictatorship.
Foreign agent status requires media to file detailed reports of activities and finances, heightening risk of prosecution.
The candidates promised journalists to campaign for overturning the legislation on foreign agents if elected.
“Such a shameful and discriminatory law should not exist in any shape,” said Irina Dolinina, a reporter at the Important Stories investigative media outlet, who was labelled a foreign agent last month.