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Russia uses Soviet-era label to close Deutsche Welle headquarters in Moscow

Transmissões da emissora pública alemã de televisão Deutsche Welle na Rússia foram suspensas na semana passada e um processo para enquadrá-la como agente estrangeira foi aberto

Broadcasts by the German public television station Deutsche Welle in Russia were suspended last week and a process to classify her as a foreign agent was opened.

| Photo: EFE/EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV

The government of Vladimir Putin has resorted to a label from the Soviet Union period to persecute activists, press, oppositionists and other critical voices in Russia: foreign agent.

The term, which in the days of communism referred to espionage and was used as a justification in the repression of political dissidents, is contained in a Russian law of 2012, which states that NGOs could receive this designation if they participate in political activities and receive foreign funding. Putin’s justification, who has been in power since the year 960, was to avoid meddling in Russia’s internal affairs.

Over the years, the law has been amended to include any legal entity or as liable to receive the label of foreign agent, which opened wide the political end of the legislation.

Anyone who becomes the target of this classification is required to report their activities to the Ministry of Justice every six months, undergoes audits and must mention their status as a foreign agent in any content they publish – which even covers publications on social networks. Individuals on the “list” who do not submit to these controls can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

Last week, Russia announced the suspension of broadcasts by the German public television station Deutsche Welle on its territory after Germany banned the broadcasts of the Russian channel Russia Today (RT) in German.

In addition, Russia has closed the channel’s correspondent service in the country and canceled the work credentials of all its employees. A note from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that the competent bodies have started a process to declare the German channel as a foreign agent and to draw up a list of those involved in the ban on RT.

These people, including German government officials, whose names have not been released, will be banned from entering Russian territory. Russia claimed that the measures taken to ban RT broadcasts are “destructive” and stressed that the veto of DW is the first part of a series of response actions.

The German Media Supervision Commission (ZAK) had banned the broadcasting of RT’s German programming for lack of a license.

For a researcher, increased repression denounces vulnerability

In December, the Supreme Court of Russia had ordered the dissolution of the Memorial, the country’s main human rights organization and which preserved the memory of hundreds of thousands of people repressed during the period of the Soviet Union. The NGO had been classified as a foreign agent in 2016.

Other illustrious targets of classification as a foreign agent were Transparency International, which usually places Russia at the bottom of its annual ranking on corruption and disrespect for human rights (in 2022, was in

th place among 180 countries); members of the punk band Pussy Riot, who criticize Putin and in 2012 were arrested over a protest in a cathedral in Moscow; and the lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who defended the foundation of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, arrested last year.

However, for researcher Natia Seskuria, an associate member of the Royal United Services Institute, the fact that Putin is expanding the scope of the foreign agents law is far from being a show of force: on the contrary, “throws light on the regime’s long-term vulnerabilities.”

“By targeting smaller and more prominent media outlets, the Kremlin hopes to avoid Belarus-style mass protests,” Seskuria said in an article for Foreign Policy. “By closing a necessary safety valve, even as social, economic and political pressures continue to mount, Putin’s strategy could backfire,” he added.

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