(Updates with U.S. State Department comment, background)
MOSCOW, May 14 (Reuters) - Russia has frozen the Moscow bank accounts of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty after fining it repeatedly for breaking its “foreign agent” legislation, the U.S. broadcaster said on Friday.
Russia has designated RFE/RL as “foreign agent” media. Earlier on Friday, Russian bailiffs carried out an inventory of its Moscow bureau and notified it of the beginning of proceedings over unpaid fines for violations of the “foreign agent” law.
Under the law, Russian authorities have the power to label foreign-funded NGOs, media or individuals they deem are engaged in political activity as “foreign agents.”
The term, which carries a negative Soviet-era connotation, requires designees to attach a 24-word statement to their publications saying they are functioning as a foreign agent and to report their funding and spending.
The standoff creates new friction in Washington’s ties with Moscow that are already at post-Cold War lows, under pressure from an array of issues including Ukraine, Syria, sanctions and the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said Washington was deeply troubled by the move.
“This is Russia’s latest attempt to suppress independent media and deny the Russian people access to objective news. We will continue to unequivocally support RFE/RL and its affiliates, and to stand up for freedom of expression, including for members of the press,” Porter told reporters.
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RFE/RL has said the fines were part of a campaign to force it out of Russia. It has been fined $1 million this year for what Russia says is its repeated failure to label itself as a foreign agent. (Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis in Washington; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Cynthia Osterman)
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