for-phone-onlyfor-tablet-portrait-upfor-tablet-landscape-upfor-desktop-upfor-wide-desktop-up

Russia labels veteran rights activist, four others, media 'foreign agents'

FILE PHOTO: Riot police detain human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov during an unsanctioned protest in Moscow May 7, 2012. Vladimir Putin was sworn in as Russia's president in a glittering Kremlin ceremony on Monday, starting a six-year term in which he faces growing dissent, economic problems and bitter political rivalries. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Ministry of Justice added five people, including veteran rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, to its list of media “foreign agents” on Monday, the first time individuals have been targeted under legislation used against media outlets.

Russia first passed a law in 2012 allowing it to label foreign-funded non-governmental organisations and rights groups it viewed as engaged in political activity as “foreign agents”, a term with negative Soviet-era connotations.

The law was later expanded to label “foreign agent” media outlets and independent journalists and bloggers. Rights groups say the law is open to abuse and has been used to stifle dissent and harass civil society groups.

On Monday, the justice ministry announced the addition of Ponomaryov, 79, a longtime critic of President Vladimir Putin, to its list of media foreign agents alongside four other people, including a journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Until now, the list had only contained the names of media outlets, including various regional services of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as well as the Voice of America and a Czech outlet.

Ponomaryov said he was unsure how the designation would affect him and that he was surprised that he, as a non-journalist, had been named, the Interfax news agency reported.

Rights groups and other organisations designated by the justice ministry as foreign agents can be subjected to spot checks and face bureaucratic scrutiny.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn

for-phone-onlyfor-tablet-portrait-upfor-tablet-landscape-upfor-desktop-upfor-wide-desktop-up