Barents Observer journalist takes Russian Justice Ministry to court
The journalist that was included in Russia’s list of so-called “foreign agents” in late March this year is disputing the decision and takes the federal Justice Ministry to court.
“We are filing a case against the Ministry of Justice because I do not consider myself a ‘foreign agent’ and want to communicate this position to the public,” Chentemirov says in a comment.
The journalist who until recently was leader of the Journalist Union in the Republic of Karelia, fled Russia in September and started to work in Norway for the Barents Observer.
According to Chentemirov, the justification for including him in the foreign agent list is ridiculous.
“They argue that I am engaged in ‘political activities’ because I have expressed my opinion on my personal social media page, written articles about developments in Russia and asked questions to people in interviews.”
“This is absurd,” he underlines.
In a letter addressed to the Ministry, Chentemirov underlines that his work has “never been aimed against Russia in the interest of whatever other country.”
“In my work as a journalist I have always done my best to write about significant public issues, and that is what I continue to do today, in line with norms of professional ethics,” he says.
As citizen I have always taken use of my constitutional right to express my opinion [and] as leader of the Karelian Union of Journalists I stood up for the protection of journalists’ rights and freedom of speech.”
Chentemirov’s lawsuit was first rejected by a court in Petrozavodsk, the Russian home town of the journalist. But the rejection will be appealed to a higher court, he says.
The journalist has no illusions that we will win the case, but says a lawsuit offers an opportunity to “legally record one’s disagreement with the situation.”
Chentemirov is confident that his inclusion in the foreign agent list is politically motivated, and that it comes as a response to his opposition to the war against Ukraine and criticism of Vladimir Putin and “everyone that leads Russia towards the biggest catastrophe in its history.”
The journalist is supported by lawyer Natalia Chernova.
In a comment to the Barents Observer, Chernova says Chentemirov’s case is part of “a very complicate situation.”
“I want to say that the situation is very difficult for people of liberal professions,” the lawyer underlines. She believes that the Justice Ministry puts people on the foreign agent list without any evidence.
“Our opponent does not provide evidence, only words,” she says, and adds that she can only comment on the specific case of Chentemirov.
She has little hope that the case against the Justice Ministry can be won.
“I don’t think the court will surprise us. I’m not sure that the decision will be positive for us, but we must try!”
Russia’s first “foreign agent” law was introduced in 2012. It has since been used to smear opposition groups, media and individuals that express opposition to the authorities.
Individuals named “foreign agent” are no longer allowed to join civil service, participate in electoral commissions or donate to political parties. They are also banned from engaging in educational activities or producing information materials for minors.
So far, more than 500 NGOs and individuals are included. All are subject to rigorous auditing and have to add a highly visible disclaimer on private social media posts and reporting inside Russia stating that the text below is written by a “foreign agent”.
Failing to comply with the burdensome requirement of audit reporting and publishing disclaimers bear hefty fines, and could even result in criminal charges.