2 Russian news sites, legal aid group, close under pressure

MOSCOW (AP) – Two Russian news outlets and a legal aid group backed by a prominent Kremlin critic shut down on Thursday after authorities blocked their websites, the government’s latest measures targeting independent media, supporters of opposition and human rights activists ahead of the Russian parliamentary elections in September.

News sites Otkrytye Media and MBKh Media, as well as legal aid group Pravozashchita Otkrytki, have announced that they are going out of business, citing reports that their websites were blocked on Wednesday evening due to their alleged links. with organizations declared “undesirable” in Russia – a label that outlaws an organization and exposes its members, supporters and partners to criminal prosecution.

All three organizations are backed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian tycoon who moved to London after spending a decade in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for defying the regime of President Vladimir Putin. Russian authorities have declared a number of organizations linked to Khodorkovsky “undesirable”.

Otkrytye Media said in a statement Thursday that he had received a grant from Khodorkovsky but had never worked with “undesirable” organizations. However, the outlet would close because “the risks to project staff members are too high”. MBKh Media editor-in-chief Veronika Kutsyllo echoed the sentiment, saying on Facebook that she was not “ready to endanger the freedom and the lives of other people.”

“Unfortunately, the authorities do not need critical media projects on what is happening in the country. The more reviews there are, the shorter the lifespan of a project. But at least we tried, ”the statement from Otkrytye Media reads.

Lawyer Anastasia Burakova, who worked with Pravozashchita Otkrytki, told Dozhd TV station “that there was no other choice” for the group but to shut down.

Independent media, journalists, opposition supporters and human rights activists in Russia came under increased pressure ahead of the September 19 vote, which is widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to consolidate his power before the presidential election of 2024.

The 68-year-old Russian leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to stay in power until 2036.

In recent months, the government has designated a number of independent media outlets and journalists as “foreign agents” – a label that involves additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative overtones that could discredit recipients – and raided the homes of several. prominent journalists.

The outlet editor who published investigative reports exposing allegations of corruption and abuse by senior officials and tycoons close to Putin has been banned as an “unwanted” organization.

About Charles D. Goolsby

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