Moscow ban of Novaya Gazeta ‘another blow’ to independent Russian media, says UN

Editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta Dmitry Muratov at Le Temps and Geneva Solutions’ offices in Geneva, 2 May 2022 (Credit: Davide Wagnières/Le Temps)

A court in Moscow stripped independent news outlet Novaya Gazeta of its media licence on Monday, effectively banning it from operating.

Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, had accused the outlet of failing to provide documents related to a change of ownership in 2006, Reuters reported.

The newspaper, which is one of the country’s last independent media outlets, has been stripped of its print licence at the request of Roskomnadzor.

The ruling comes less than a year after the publication’s editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to support journalistic freedoms in Russia.

Read more: Dmitry Muratov: 'Russia had a future, many think it has no more'

Speaking outside court, Muratov said the ruling was “a political hit job, without the slightest legal basis”. He said the paper would appeal the decision.

The ruling has been condemned as yet another example of Russia’s crackdown on independent media following President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

The United Nations Human Rights Office called the judgement against Novaya Gazeta “yet another blow to the independence of Russian media whose activities have been further compromised by legal restrictions and increased state controls imposed following the Russian Federation’s attack on Ukraine.”

Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement: “Russian authorities should refrain from applying measures which stifle reporting on serious issues of legitimate public interest and allow debate of diverse and plural voices, in the media, in line with international standards.”

A Moscow court is set to decide whether to also revoke the licence for the publication’s website in a separate ruling next week.

Established in 1993, Novaya Gazeta is one of Russia’s last remaining independent publications. The news outlet is best known for its investigations into corruption inside and outside Russia as well as human rights abuses and the conflicts in Chechnya.

A number of its journalists have been killed in retaliation for their reporting, including reporter Anna Politkovskaya who was assassinated in 2006.

In March, Novaya Gazeta said it would cease operations until the end of the war in Ukraine after the paper received a number of warnings for allegedly violating the country’s “foreign agent law” which imposes strict censorship on coverage of the conflict.

Some of the paper’s staff have since fled Russia and launched a new outlet, Novaya Gazeta Europe. Roskomnadzor has blocked the website inside Russia.

Shamdasani said the UN Human Rights Office has “repeatedly expressed our concern about the foreign agent law and its chilling effect on the free exercise of civil and political rights.”

She added: “We note that it has often been invoked in a manner inconsistent with human rights law to limit or deny the exercise of the rights to free expression, peaceful assembly and association, among others.”

Muratov, who has remained in Russia, was the target of a chemical attack in April believed to be in response to the paper’s anti-war stance.

He visited Geneva for International Press Freedom Day in May, during which he voiced his concerns about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and its impact on press freedoms and Russian society as a whole.

Muratov led the funeral procession of the late Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Sunday, who was his friend and a financial backer of Novaya Gazeta.

Gorbachev famously used part of his Nobel Peace Prize money to help set up the newspaper in 1993 and was widely seen as the publication’s patron.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia has launched an unprecedented crackdown on independent news outlets. In March, President Putin effectively criminalised any public criticism of the war in Ukraine by introducing a law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for the spreading of “fake news” that “discredited the armed forces”.

Virtually all independent outlets have now been blocked or shut down by the Russian government.