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Russia fines investigative website for breaking 'foreign agent' law

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By Reuters

MOSCOW -Russian investigative website The Insider was fined on Tuesday for breaking the “foreign agents” law that requires it to attach a disclaimer to its publications and subjects it to increased bureaucratic scrutiny.

The Insider, which was added to a justice ministry list of “foreign agents” in July, has worked with Dutch-based website Bellingcat on projects including an investigation into last year’s nerve agent poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The “foreign agent” designation requires outlets to publish a 24-word disclaimer saying their publications are distributed by a media organisation “fulfilling the function of a foreign agent”.

Moscow’s Tagansky District Court fined The Insider 1 million roubles ($13,600) for failing to identify itself as a foreign agent. Repeated violations of the law can lead to an organisation being closed altogether.

The designation, which carries negative Soviet-era connotations, also requires outlets to regularly report on their earnings and spending to the justice ministry.

At the time of The Insider’s designation as a “foreign agent”, editor-in-chief Roman Dobrokhotov said the outlet, which is based in Latvia, would not comply with the ministry’s order to put the label on its publications.

Dobrokhotov told Reuters on Tuesday that his position had not changed. “We will appeal,” he said. “We will definitely not put on any disclaimers.”

Russian police have declared Dobrokhotov, who fled the country in August, a wanted man and opened a criminal case against him.

Russian authorities argue the “foreign agents” list — which includes media outlets, journalists and rights groups who the authorities say are receiving foreign funding to carry out political activities — is needed to safeguard the country from external influence.

Rights organisations and independent media outlets say it has been used to smother groups that challenge the Kremlin.