Russia unleashes fresh crackdown on the Moscow Times

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Russia has declared the Moscow Times, one of the country’s oldest independent news sources, an “undesirable organisation,” a designation that makes having any links to it a criminal offence.

The decision, announced by Russia’s prosecutor-general’s office on Wednesday, bans the news site from the country, threatens staff with up to six years in prison for working there, and criminalises posting its articles online.

Prosecutors said that the Moscow Times “aimed to discredit the senior leadership of the Russian Federation in foreign and domestic policy” and “systematically published inaccurate socially resonant information to discredit our country’s organs of state power” during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The designation is part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, under which most of the country’s independent news outlets have been banned.

Shortly after the February 2022 invasion, Russia shut down several media organisations and criminalised “discrediting the armed forces”, prompting staff at the Moscow Times to flee the country, along with hundreds of other independent journalists.

In April 2022, Russia blocked the Moscow Times’ website and in November 2023 deemed the publication a “foreign agent”, a designation aimed at making it near impossible to monetise its audience inside the country.

“The Moscow Times has a long tradition of fact based independent journalism,” Derk Sauer, the Moscow Times’s founder, said on Wednesday.

“Whatever label the Russian authorities put on us, we’ll continue with our mission to provide our Russian and international readers with quality journalism. In Putin’s Russia this is now a crime.”

In an editor’s note, the Moscow Times said Russia’s decision “will make it even more difficult for us to do our jobs, putting reporters and fixers inside Russia at risk of criminal prosecution and making sources even more hesitant to speak to us”.

Sauer helped the Moscow Times and other Russian news outlets also banned in the country, such as the independent television channel Rain, relocate about 150 staff and family members to Amsterdam following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Founded in 1992, shortly after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Moscow Times quickly emerged as Russia’s main English language news source, and now also runs a website in Russian.

The publication maintained its editorial independence even as Russia began slowly ramping up pressure on the media after Putin came to power.

Before the invasion of Ukraine, the Moscow Times was also a training ground for many journalists who went on to cover Russia for major western media outlets.

Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter currently on trial in Russia on espionage charges the newspaper vehemently denies, began his reporting career at the Moscow Times.

The Moscow Times is mostly funded through western grants and donations from readers, though supporters in Russia will now face criminal charges for sending it money.

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