Khodorkovsky-Backed Media, Legal Aid Groups Shut Down After Russia Blocks Them

Two online publications and a legal aid group backed by exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky announced they were ceasing operations on August 5 after the sites were blocked by Russian authorities.

Open Media and the MBKh news sites and the Human Rights Postcards legal aid group made their closures known via social media, citing ongoing risks to employees and other factors.

The closures mark just the latest curb on independent media and opposition supporters by President Vladimir Putin’s Russia ahead of parliamentary and local elections next month.

Open Media announced its decision via its Telegram channel. MBKh’s former editor in chief Veronika Kutsyllo made its closure announcement in a Facebook post.

Roskomnadzor’s blocking of Open Media and MBKh is the latest move against independent media ahead of parliamentary and local elections in September.

Both Open Media and MBKh Media were unavailable for the users of most Russian Internet providers from late on August 4.

The outlets said they had not received any notification from authorities explaining why they were blocked.

Open Media said in a statement on August 5 that it had received a grant from Khodorkovsky but never worked with “undesirable” organizations. Still, the outlet said it would shut down as “the risks for the project’s staff members are too high.”

Khodorkovsky said in a statement on August 5 that the recent “political repressions” show “the regression of Putin’s regime and Putin personally towards the outdated Soviet model, adjusted for his personal greed.”

Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia’s richest man, moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging Putin politically.

According to Russia’s state registry of blocked websites, access to the news outlets was restricted on orders of the Prosecutor-General’s Office on August 3.

The registry referred to a law allowing the blocking of websites that incite mass unrest, extremist activities, or participation in unauthorized rallies.

Russia in recent weeks has designated a number of independent media outlets and journalists as “foreign agents” or “undesirable” — labels that imply an attempt to discredit the journalists or that apply additional government scrutiny.

The widening crackdown ahead of the September 19 elections has targeted media regarded by authorities as hostile and foreign-backed.

Russian authorities last month labeled some journalists from the Open Media outlet as “foreign agents.”

The so-called “foreign agent” law requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” and to submit to audits.

Numerous investigative media organizations, including RFE/RL’s Russian Service, six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, are among the news organizations that have been labeled “foreign agents.”

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