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Russian police detain journalists who back media freedom

MOSCOW — Russian police on Saturday detained several journalists who protested authorities’ decision to label a top independent TV channel as a “foreign agent.”

The journalists held individual pickets outside the main headquarters of the country’s top domestic security agency, the FSB, on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square.

They held placards such as “Journalism is not a crime” and “You are afraid of the truth” to protest the Justice Ministry’s move Friday to add the Dozhd (Rain) TV channel and the online investigative outlet Vazhnye Istorii (Important Stories) to the list of “foreign agents.”

“I’m against labelling the TV channel Dozhd as a ‘foreign agent,’” said Farida Rustamova, a Dozhd journalist who picketed on Saturday. “I want to work and live freely in Russia. I want to have an opportunity to be a free journalist. I don’t want my colleagues to be arrested, searched and labeled as an ‘enemy of the people’ or ‘agents.’”

Yulia Krasnikova, a journalist at Vazhnye Istorii, denounced the authorities’ move as unconstitutional.

“The fact that we don’t want to write stories that other pro-government media do doesn’t mean that we violate something and that we are some ‘foreign agents,’” Krasnikova said. “I’m here to protest it and to support my colleagues.”

The Justice Ministry acted under a law that is used to designate as “foreign agents” non-governmental organizations and individuals who receive funding from abroad and engage in activities loosely described as political. The label implies closer government scrutiny and carries a strong pejorative connotation that could undermine the credibility of media outlets and hurt their advertising prospects.

Dozhd denounced the move as unfair and said it would appeal.

The TV channel has been sharply critical of Russian authorities’ crackdown on dissent and regularly carried live reports from opposition protests. It has extensively covered the poisoning and the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile critic, and the criminal cases launched against Navalny’s allies.

Russian authorities have raised the pressure on the opposition and independent media ahead of the Sept. 19 parliamentary vote, which is widely seen as important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his rule ahead of Russia’s 2024 presidential election.

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