MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities declared the independent news website Meduza an undesirable organization Thursday, the latest in a series of actions against groups and publications that are critical of Russia.
The decision by the prosecutor-general’s office came on the same day that the publisher of the Mediazona website, which reports on the legal system and law enforcement, said he was charged in absentia with spreading false and defamatory information about the Russian military.
Also Thursday, a human rights center named in honor of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov said Moscow city authorities had ordered it to vacate its premises.
Meduza, based in Latvia, has reported extensively and critically on Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. The site has been blocked in Russia since before it was declared undesirable, though it can still be accessed via VPN.
The Russian prosecutor-general’s order said Meduza’s “activities present a threat to the foundations of the Russian Federation’s constitutional order and national security.” The decision applies specifically to the Medusa Project organization, which publishes Meduza.
A law passed in 2015 allows Russia to declare foreign organizations undesirable and to subject Russians who are tied to them to fines and imprisonment. The law is a companion to a measure that requires organizations in Russia that receive foreign funding to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” potentially undermining their credibility.
Meduza had already been declared a foreign agent and was obliged to publish a banner acknowledging the designation on its stories.
Both laws have been used to stifle or discredit dissent. The crackdown intensified after Russia sent troops into Ukraine 11 months ago and passed another law penalizing information that is seen as discrediting Russian troops.
Prominent opposition figure Ilya Yashin was sentenced in December to 8 1/2 years in prison under that law.
Mediazona publisher Pyotr Verzilov was charged with violating the law because of social media posts about Bucha, the city near Kyiv where the bodies of hundreds of civilians were found after Russian troops pulled out. Many appeared to have been executed, but Russia said the deaths were staged as a provocation.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said Verzilov “created a real threat of forming a false opinion among citizens about the goals and objectives of the special military operation in Ukraine,” state news agency Tass said Thursday.
The Sakharov Center, which is named for the late Soviet nuclear physicist turned dissident who won the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights work, said Moscow authorities have canceled its leases on properties where it operates a cultural center and a museum and houses Sakharov’s archives.
The eviction is connected to an expansion of the foreign agents’ law in December that forbids state support to organizations designated as agents.
“The island of freedom is impossible in modern Russia, which has turned away not only from the legacy of Sakharov, but also from the entire domestic tradition of humanism, striving for truth and justice,” the center said in a statement.
Russia this week also shut down the country’s oldest human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group.
Authorities accused the organization of violating its legal registration in Moscow by working on human rights cases outside the Russian capital, accusations the group denounced as “minute and absurd.”
The Moscow Helsinki Group was founded in 1976 and demanded freedom for political prisoners and the establishment of democratic rights.