A court in Moscow has begun bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity, RFE/RL LLC, after local tax authorities initiated the process earlier this year, a move that prompted the broadcaster to suspend operations in the country.
The Arbitration Court of Moscow ruled on August 15 to start bankruptcy proceedings, which were initiated by the Federal Tax Service on March 4, saying that RFE.RL LLC owes some 7 million rubles ($112,000) to the tax authorities for 2021.
RFE/RL LLC in Moscow represents RFE/RL’s interests in Russia. It was established in 2020 due to Russia’s controversial law on “foreign agents.”
The bankruptcy proceedings stem from Russian media regulations requiring that RFE/RL and other outlets deemed “foreign agents” mark themselves as such with a lengthy notice in large text for all written materials, an audio statement with all radio materials, and a text declaration with all video materials.
They also coincided with a new law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that took effect on March 5 and allows for prison sentences of up to 15 years for people who distribute “false news” about the Russian Army at a time when Moscow had invaded neighboring Ukraine.
RFE/RL has refused to comply with this mandate and since last year Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, has filed more than a thousand administrative charges against RFE/RL LLC and its director, ordering them to pay almost 1 billion rubles ($16 million) in fines.
The official start of the bankruptcy proceedings was sparked because RFE/RL LLC was unable to pay its taxes because its bank accounts were blocked by court bailiffs last year.
RFE/RL considers Russia’s law on foreign agents to be an expression of political censorship that does not allow journalists to carry out their professional activities. RFE/RL has appealed the Russian authorities’ moves against its activities with Russian courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Many international journalist organizations and foreign governments have expressed support for RFE/RL and freedom of speech in Russia.
In March, after 30 years of operations in the Russian capital, RFE/RL had to close its bureau there. Some 27 journalists contributing to RFE/RL’s programs currently are listed in the Justice Ministry’s registry of foreign agents.
Websites of RFE/RL’s Russian Service and several of its projects, as well as their accounts on social networks, have been blocked in Russia.
Despite that, the popularity of RFE/RL’s Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, remains very high.
In March, days after Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, more than 18 million Internet users visited Radio Svoboda’s sites.
Since January, more than 100 million users have visited the sites./RFE