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Russia Declares RFE/RL, VOA As 'Foreign Agents'

RFE/RL's Prague headquarters

The Russian Justice Ministry has issued a statement listing Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America (VOA) as "foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent."

In a statement on its website, the ministry said that in accordance with a new Russian law on mass media, it has decided to list RFE/RL, VOA, Current Time TV, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, Siberia.Reality, Idel.Reality, Factograph, Kavkaz Realii, and Crimea.Reality as "foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent."

A Russian bill enabling the government to designate any foreign media outlet a "foreign agent" passed quickly through parliament and was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 25.

Russian officials have said the law is a "symmetrical response" after state-funded channel RT -- which U.S. authorities accuse of spreading propaganda -- was required to register its U.S. operating unit under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

U.S. officials say the action is not symmetrical, arguing that the U.S. and Russian laws are different and that Russia uses its "foreign agent" legislation to silence dissent and discourage a free exchange of ideas.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on December 4 that media outlets designated as foreign agents would not be stripped of their accreditation with the ministry and would be able to "go ahead with journalistic activity in Russia calmly and without any hindrances."

Human Rights Watch has condemned the Russian legislation as a "full-throttle attack on media freedom" and said it was "tailor-made to be selectively and politically enforced, and to silence voices they do not want Russian people to hear."

With reporting from Interfax and RIA Novosti