Russian Regulator Blocks Two Online News Outlets Critical Of Kremlin

Russia’s media regulator has blocked two online news outlets critical of the Kremlin in the latest move against independent media ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

Open Media and MBKh Media are unavailable for users of most Russian internet providers, the websites said late on August 4.

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

The two news outlets are backed by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who moved to London after spending 10 years in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin politically.

MBKh said its site has been blocked by media regulator Roskomnadzor. Open Media also cited Roskomnadzor, saying on Telegram that its website is included on a list compiled by the regulator as a resource that includes calls for riots and extremist activities.

Open Media said it received several letters on August 4 asking it to remove content from its website that was against the law. The letters, however, did not indicate the content in question.

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 parliamentary election has targeted media regarded by authorities as hostile and foreign-backed.

Russian authorities last month labelled 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, are among the news organizations that have been labeled “foreign agents.”

With reporting by AP and Reuters