Russia labels Pussy Riot members, satirist 'foreign agents'

·3-min read
Tolokonnikova, 32, is one of three members of Pussy Riot who were sentenced to two years in prison (AFP/Sergio FLORES) (Sergio FLORES)

Russia on Thursday declared Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a founding member of the Pussy Riot band, and prominent satirist Viktor Shenderovich "foreign agents" as authorities press ahead with a crackdown on dissent.

The justice ministry also added to its list of "foreign agents" six other figures including journalist Taisiya Bekbulatova, art collector Marat Gelman and Veronika Nikulshina, another Pussy Riot member.

"These people systematically distribute materials to an indefinite circle of persons, while receiving foreign funds," the ministry said in a statement.

Tolokonnikova, 32, is one of three members of Pussy Riot who were sentenced to two years in prison after they sang a "Punk Prayer" denouncing the Russian Orthodox Church's close ties with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's central Church of Christ the Saviour in February 2012.

She and a bandmate were convicted and sentenced to jail in August 2012.

Tolokonnikova said she would go to court and would not use the label.

"Lol," she said on Instagram.

"The government can label their asses if they'd like," she said in English.

Shenderovich, 63, is a prominent anti-Kremlin satirist and political observer.

Speaking on Echo of Moscow radio, he said he saw the designation as an attempt to push him out of the country.

- 'Enemies of the people' -

By law, entities identified as "foreign agents" must disclose sources of funding, undergo audits and accompany all their texts, videos and social media posts with a caption mentioning content from a "foreign agent".

The status is reminiscent of the Soviet-era term "enemy of the people" and is meant to apply to people or groups that receive funding from abroad and are involved in any kind of "political activity".

Russia first introduced the term in legislation passed in 2012, but it applied to non-governmental groups before being expanded to media organisations in 2017 and individual journalists last year.

Critics say the label is used to silence Kremlin critics and make daily life difficult for them.

The Kremlin says the measures are necessary because of increased interference from abroad with non-governmental groups and journalists exploited by outside actors to meddle in Russian affairs.

The "foreign agent" list currently has 111 names.

A number of independent media outlets including Rain TV and Meduza, a popular Russian-language website, have previously been branded "foreign agents".

The past year has seen an unprecedented crackdown on dissent in Russia, including the jailing of Putin's top critic Alexei Navalny and outlawing his political organisations.

Navalny's team pointed out that some of the new additions to the "foreign agent" list were not journalists.

"They simply are 'the enemies of the people' whose lives are being essentially ruined," the team said on Twitter.

Russia's most prominent rights group Memorial -- also branded a "foreign agent" -- was this week ordered by courts to shut down over a number of alleged transgressions including failing to use on all its publications the "foreign agent" label and justifying terrorism and extremism.

The rulings were denounced by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.

Also on Thursday, Putin signed into law legislation that allows the state communications regulator to block any content which justifies extremism.

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