Twice Targeted Russian Media Lawyer Is “Foreign Agent” Defending “Foreign Agents”

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VORONEZH, Russia – During the long years of his drivel, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev has often been ridiculed for the ever-growing row of Soviet Union Heroes stars blossoming on his chest. By the time of his death in 1982, he had accumulated four of the medals.

Media defense lawyer Galina Arapova says she now feels a bit like Brezhnev, having become the first person designated by the Russian government as a “foreign agent” not once, but twice. The first designation came in 2018 when the non-governmental Mass Media Defense Center she heads was put on the list. The second came on October 8, when the lawyer herself was named as having a “foreign agent news outlet.”

But it won’t stop there, apparently: the individual designation means that under controversial Russian law she will have to create a legal entity to handle the government’s reporting requirements – and that entity itself will automatically become another. “foreign agent”. . “

“It’s a bit like a nesting doll”, Arapova she told the North.Realities Desk of RFE / RL’s Russian service.. “You accumulate these names like Hero of the Soviet Union stars. “

The 49-year-old native of Voronezh can add these latest titles to previous accolades she has won with the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Russian Union of Journalists and other human rights and civil society organizations . In addition, she was a member of the Russian Press Council, a member of the board of directors of the European Center for Press and Media Freedom, a member of the International High Level Group of Legal Experts on Media Freedom and Director of the London-based media freedom organization Article 19.

When she became the only Russian lawyer to win the International Bar Association award for “outstanding contribution of a practicing lawyer to the defense of human rights” in 2016, Arapova received a telegram from congratulations from the Governor of Voronezh Oblast and later Deputy Prime Minister. Aleksei Gordeyev (also senior official of the ruling United Russia party): “Thanks to you, the Media Rights Center has acquired a reputation as one of the most authoritative legal organizations in Russia or abroad .

‘An avalanche’

So far, she said, the designations have had little substantial impact on her work advocating and advising dozens of individuals and media who have found themselves on the lists of “agents.” foreigners ”from the government.

“I would only mention that I must – on every social media post, at every public lecture – place the 24-word disclaimer, which in the near future will be considered by readers to be as normal as ‘hello’,” she said. said. “There are also personal reports on income and expenses, which is a serious intrusion into personal life…. Of course, I will appeal because this is a deeply discriminatory law. Which, of course, is the point. “

Over the nearly 25 years of the Media Rights Defense Center’s existence, the group has provided legal assistance to thousands of journalists, many of whom resisted punitive libel suits.

Over the years, Galina Arapova’s Mass Media Defense Center has championed media rights and has also helped provide legal advice to thousands of journalists. (archive photo)

In an interview with RFE / RL in 2018, Arapova described the historical dynamics of the plight of journalists in post-Soviet Russia.

“In the late 1990s there was more violence against journalists, including killings,” she said. “In the early 2000s, we started to see more and more court cases and disputes were resolved in a civilized manner. By 2008, there were approximately 4,500 defamation cases per year. Today there are around 700, as new tools to hunt journalists have appeared.

The most important of these “new ways”, she added, are the “foreign agent” laws.

“Since the summer, we have seen an avalanche of designations in the register of ‘foreign agents’,” she said after her own designation last week. “We are helping all journalists and the overwhelming majority of media that have been added to the registry since July. We are talking about tens.

“Stress and shock”

“Just as I have helped before, I will continue to help people who find themselves in a situation of confusion, outrage, stress and shock,” she added. “Some of them start to smoke nervously. Others don’t understand what to do next. These people do not only need legal aid but also psychological support. It is a difficult life situation that most people are not prepared for. “

Russian legislation on “foreign agents” was adopted in 2012 and has been amended several times. It requires that non-governmental organizations that receive foreign aid and that the government considers engaged in political activity be registered, identify themselves as “foreign agents” and submit to audits. Subsequent changes in the law targeted foreign-funded media.

At the end of 2020, legislation was changed to allow the Russian government to include individuals, including foreign journalists, on its “foreign agents” list and to impose restrictions on them.

In 2017, the Russian government listed RFE / RL’s Russian service, RFE / RL’s six other Russian-language news services, including North.Realities and Current Time. Earlier this year, Russian courts began imposing heavy fines on RFE / RL for failing to mark its items with a government-mandated label, as required by rules adopted in October 2020. RFE / RL does appeal of fines.

Human Rights Watch has described the legislation on “foreign agents” as “restrictive” and intended to “demonize independent groups”.

ALSO READ: Who Labeled Russia as a “Foreign Agent”?

Arapova warns that “foreign agent” laws have been and will continue to be extended as a tool of global repression under President Vladimir Putin.

“Legally speaking, they have prepared appointments for the widest range of legal subjects and the most varied training,” she said. “Whether it is a legal person or a collective of citizens or simply an individual, whatever his nationality. You can be nominated in any capacity imaginable.

Her advice to her clients is always the same, she said: “Everything passes, and that too will pass. “

“They have to understand that it is not the end of the world,” she said. “I think it’s like a house of cards that will rot and fall apart…. If you do your job well, if you are a professional and a decent person, this is what will be left in the end. This is why even when life is very difficult, you have to go through it with dignity, not to betray yourself, to make the right strategic choices.

But she realizes that doing this is not always easy.

“I don’t call on people to be selfless heroism,” she concluded. “Everyone makes their own choices on the position to adopt, the vision of the world to have. People have the right to act as they see fit, including being afraid. To be afraid is not to be ashamed of. We all only have one life.

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