More crackdowns in Russia as Putin is set to govern for another six years

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Putin’s crackdown casts a wide net, ensnaring the LGBTQ+ community, lawyers and many others.

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — It’s not just opposition politicians who are targeted in the crackdown by Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s government in recent years. Also falling victim are independent voices as well as those who don’t conform to what the state sees as the country’s “traditional values.”

Russia’s once-thriving free press after the collapse of the Soviet Union has been largely reduced to either state-controlled media or independent journalists operating from abroad, with few critical outlets still working in the country. Prominent rights groups have been outlawed or classified as agents of foreigners. Lawyers who represented dissidents have been prosecuted. LGBTQ+ activists have been labeled “extremists.”

A look at those who have come under attack during Putin’s 24-year rule that is likely to be extended by six more years in this month’s presidential election:

INDEPENDENT MEDIA

Independent news sites largely have been blocked in Russia since the first weeks of the war in Ukraine. Many have moved their newsrooms abroad and continue to operate, accessible in Russia via virtual private networks, or VPNs. Reporting inside Russia or earning money off Russian advertisers has been difficult.

Russian authorities since 2021 also have labeled dozens of outlets and individual journalists as ”foreign agents” – a designation implying additional government scrutiny and carrying strong pejorative connotations aimed at discrediting the recipient. Some have also been outlawed as “undesirable organizations” under a 2015 law that makes involvement with such organizations a criminal offense.

Journalists have been arrested and imprisoned on a variety of charges.

“The Russian authorities decided to destroy civil society institutions and independent journalism completely after Feb. 24, 2022,” said Ivan Kolpakov, chief editor of Russia’s most popular independent news site Meduza, referring to the date of the invasion. Meduza was declared “undesirable” in January 2023.

More restrictions appear to be coming. Parliament passed a law banning advertisers from doing business with “foreign agents,” likely affecting not just news sites but also blogs on YouTube that need advertising and are a popular source of news and analysis.

Journalist Katerina Gordeyeva initially said she was suspending her YouTube channel with 1.6 million subscribers due to the new law but changed her mind after an outpouring of support. “Giving up now would be too simple and too easy a decision,” she said. “We will try to hang in there.”

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