Russian authorities block legal aid news and websites

Two Russian news outlets and a legal aid group backed by a prominent Kremlin critic shut down on Thursday after authorities blocked their websites.

The blockade was the government’s latest move targeting independent media, opposition supporters and human rights activists ahead of the Russian parliamentary elections in September.

The news sites Otkrytye Media and MBKh Media, as well as the legal aid group Pravozashchita Otkrytki, announced the cessation of their activities, citing reports that their websites were blocked on Wednesday evening due to their alleged links to organizations declared “undesirable” in Russia – a label that outlaws an organization and exposes its members, supporters and partners to prosecution.

All three organizations are backed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian tycoon who moved to London after spending a decade in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for defying the regime of President Vladimir Putin.

Russian authorities have declared a number of organizations linked to Khodorkovsky “undesirable”.

Otkrytye Media said in a statement Thursday that he had received a grant from Khodorkovsky but had never worked with “undesirable” organizations.

Yulia Yarosh, editor-in-chief of Otkrytye Media, said the shutdowns put site employees at risk of “real criminal cases”.

“I don’t want that fate for our staff, which is why we had to shut down the project,” she said.

Independent media, journalists, opposition supporters and human rights activists in Russia came under increased pressure ahead of the September 19 vote, which is widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to consolidate his power before the next presidential election in 2024.

The 68-year-old Russian leader, in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to stay in power until 2036.

In recent months, the government has designated a number of independent media outlets and journalists as “foreign agents” – a label that involves additional government control and carries strong pejorative overtones that could discredit recipients – and raided homes. by several prominent journalists.

Khodorkovsky said in a statement Thursday that the recent “political repressions” showed “the regression of the regime of Putin and Putin personally towards the outdated Soviet model, adjusted to his personal greed”.

“I and those of my allies who are prepared for the new level of risk will continue the resistance against the regime until its complete dismantling,” Khodorkovsky said.

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