Russia names local Bellingcat reporting partner a ‘foreign agent’

Russia has named a local partner of the Bellingcat investigative journalism collective as a “foreign agent” in an apparent act of revenge for helping reveal the Kremlin’s role in the Salisbury poisonings and assassination attempts by the security agencies.

Russia’s justice ministry on Friday named the Insider, an investigative website, along with five journalists for other publications as “foreign agents”, a label that implies the news agencies and individual reporters are taking foreign money to influence Russian politics.

The designation requires the outlets label all their content and is said to scare off potential partners and advertisers. Organisations that are deemed as failing to comply with the law can be forced to shut down.

“Regarding the inclusion of the Insider on the Justice Ministry’s list, we declare that our newsroom will continue to operate,” the Insider said in a statement. “We will continue to familiarise readers with societally important information in its complete and uncensored form in accordance with Latvian laws and common sense.” The Insider is headquartered in Riga, although its journalists often work in Russia.

The Insider has been one of several new investigative websites to publish blockbuster exposes embarrassing to the Kremlin. Alongside Bellingcat, it helped to reveal the identity of two GRU agents believed to have carried out the Salisbury poisonings, an FSB hit squad behind the poisoning attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and other assassination attempts and alleged acts of subterfuge by Russian agents in Europe.

The designation comes amid a crackdown on independent media in Russia. The Insider is the 16th media outlet to be listed as a foreign agent. Some outlets have closed down after being declared “foreign agents,” saying that the designation cut off potential sources of funding. Others, like Meduza, have prevented closure through crowdfunding efforts.

Prosecutors have also declared the investigative arm of Navalny’s organisation to be “extremist” and are seeking millions in fines from RFE/RL, the US Congress-funded outlet that publishes news reporting in Russian.

Last week, Russia declared the Proekt website to be an “undesirable organisation,” forcing the website to close and for other news agencies to delete their links to Proekt reporting under threat of prosecution. Proekt had previously investigated corruption among top allies of Putin and said that it had found a woman believed to be his secret daughter.

The five Russian journalists named “foreign agents” on Friday work for Proekt, Open Media, and freelance.

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