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Explained: Why has Russia labelled a Pussy Riot member, others as ‘foreign agents’

In July, a Russian court convicted human rights defender Semyon Simonov on criminal charges related to the foreign agents law, the Human Rights Watch notes.

By: Explained Desk |
Updated: December 31, 2021 6:03:07 pm
Russian political activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/File)

Russian authorities have labelled a member of punk band Pussy Riot, a satirist and a prominent satirist as “foreign agents” under the controversial foreign agents law that allows authorities to label individuals and organisations. The move is being seen as Russia’s attempt to stifle dissent in the country.

In July, a Russian court convicted human rights defender Semyon Simonov on criminal charges related to the foreign agents law, the Human Rights Watch notes. Simonov who was the head of the Southern Human Rights Center was sentenced to 250 hours of community service for an unpaid fine levied against the centre.

Why has Russia added more names to its list of ‘foreign agents’?

According to Reuters, Russia’s justice ministry Thursday added the names of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot, art collector Marat Gelman, satirist and Kremlin critic Viktor Shenderovich and five others to the list of “foreign agents”. This list now includes 111 names as of late 2020, Reuters noted.

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Moscow’s City Court had jailed three members of Pussy Riot in August 2012 for two years. At the time, members Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Tolokonnikova were convicted of “hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred” after playing a gig in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral, and miming along to lyrics that criticised the relationship of President Vladimir Putin with Russia’s Orthodox Church, according to Amnesty International.

Thursday’s decision comes just days after the Russian Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial International, which is one of the country’s most prominent and oldest human rights organisations.

In 2012, the Russian parliament advanced this legislation, which broadened the definition of a spy to include Russian nationals who help foreign states and organisations.

In December 2020, certain amendments to this law allowed the targeting of any organisation that receives foreign funds. Foreign Policy reported in September that the amendments make it possible for the Russian regime to target any individual critics of Putin, even on social media.

What has been the recent state of dissent in Russia?

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most well-known opponents include lawyer-turned anti-corruption activist and Opposition leader Alexei Navalny who was poisoned in August 2020. Navalny has maintained that the poisoning was carried out by the Russian authorities who have denied any involvement in the attack.

An article published by the Atlantic Council, a think tank, notes that many victims of Putin’s assassins “serve as useful symbols of what happens to anyone accused of betraying or otherwise cheating the Kremlin”.

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Earlier this year, Navalny called for nationwide protests after he was arrested on his arrival to Moscow from Germany post his recovery from the poisoning. Navalny was further remanded in pre-trial detention for 30 days in January this year despite demands by the US and some European countries to release him.

By the end of January, about 800 protesters participating in the so-called pro-Navalny protests demanding he be released, had been detained by the authorities, including Navalny’s wife and close aides. The police maintained at the time that the rallies were illegal.

A month before these protests, Putin had alleged that Navalny relied on the “support of US special services”. Previously, Putin told journalists jokingly that if Russian operatives wanted to kill Navalny, “they would have probably finished the job”.

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