Russia outlaws Meduza news site in latest media crackdown

Jan 26 (Reuters) - Russian authorities designated the independent news outlet Meduza an "undesirable organisation" on Thursday, effectively outlawing the site from operating in Russia and banning any Russian from cooperating with Meduza or its journalists.

The designation is the latest in a years-long campaign by the Kremlin to curb independent media and stop their reporting from reaching ordinary Russians in a crackdown that has escalated since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

In a statement, Russia's General Prosecutor said the Latvia-based news outlet "poses a threat to the foundations of the constitutional system and the security of the Russian Federation".

Meduza, one of Russia's most widely read independent news sites, said it would continue to work, despite the designation. It earlier published a news story on its website, including details about what the label could mean.

"Undesirable organizations are banned from operating on Russian territory under threat of felony prosecution," the article said.

"Anyone who 'participates or cooperates' with such groups can face felony prosecution — an especially serious limitation for journalists who must speak to sources to report the news."

Those prosecuted for cooperating with an undesirable organisation can face heavy fines or even multi-year jail terms.

More than 50 organisations are on the "undesirable" list, including Russian investigative news outlets iStories and Proekt and Dutch-based Bellingcat.

The founder of Russia's Wagner private military group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, called for Meduza to be placed on the list last July.

He said articles that claimed sources inside the Kremlin wanted to remove Putin from power, and that a second attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv was being planned, violated Russia's strict censorship laws.

Shortly after invading Ukraine, Russia's parliament passed legislation outlining jail terms of up to five years for "discrediting" the armed forces and up to 15 years for spreading "deliberately false information" about them.

Another independent news site, Mediazona, said on Thursday its publisher Pyotr Verzilov had been accused of spreading "fakes" about the army, motivated by political hatred.

Upon passing the laws last March, Russian authorities moved swiftly to block access to dozens of websites, including Meduza's, spurring dozens of Russian and international news outlets to leave the country.

Meduza has been based in Latvia since it was established in 2014. Its placement on the "undesirable" list was condemned by opposition figures on social media.

Reporting by Jake Cordell; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, David Ljunggren and Bernadette Baum

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