The Zamoskvoretsky District Court of Moscow refused to recognize as illegal the decision to include the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov, in the list of foreign agents. The Ministry of Justice previously explained that the journalist was included in this list because he “spread an opinion” aimed at “forming a negative attitude” towards the policies of the Russian Federation. In court, a representative of the department specified that we were talking about interviews with foreign media in “unfriendly states.” Mr. Muratov himself described the process in the words of the writer Leo Tolstoy: “Obscurantism is terrible, but obscurantists are funny.”
Dmitry Muratov to the list of foreign agents hit September 1, 2023. The Ministry of Justice explained that the journalist created and distributed materials from foreign agents, used “foreign platforms to disseminate opinions and was engaged in political activity “in the form of disseminating opinions” about decisions made by government bodies, as well as “in the form of forming socio-political views.” Mr. Muratov disseminated his opinions “aimed at creating a negative attitude towards Russia’s foreign and domestic policies,” the Ministry of Justice explained. On September 4, Mr. Muratov left the post of editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta (its license in the Russian Federation was canceled by the court in September 2022) during the proceedings with the Ministry of Justice (the claim against the department was filed in October 2023).
In the Zamoskvoretsky court, the journalist explained the motives for the proceedings: “Each of us must resist arbitrariness and obscurantism. If you do not go to court when the state confiscates your rights, then you agree with forced confiscation. They’re stealing your job, your dignity, your freedom, and you don’t even write a statement about getting your rights back?” Mr. Muratov’s lawyer, Vitaly Isakov, asked the Ministry of Justice to present “evidence on each fact of foreign influence” on his client, explaining “what” the influence was expressed in and “why it was foreign.”
Dmitry Muratov himself emphasized in court that he is not under foreign influence and is a patriot of Russia. “All my statements are constitutional,” he added.
In turn, the representative of the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Vorobyov, stated in court that Dmitry Muratov gave comments to “foreign information structures” from unfriendly states, in particular Ukraine, Great Britain and Latvia. “Foreign structures are located on the territory of states that have committed unfriendly actions towards the Russian Federation, which precludes the plaintiff from distributing materials and opinions about the Russian Federation in a positive or neutral light,” the lawyer said. “The totality of these circumstances confirms the legality and validity of the decision of the Ministry of Justice to include the plaintiff in the register foreign agents."
Dmitry Muratov said that the Ministry of Justice’s claims are “suitable for a pretentious obituary”: “You simply list the events of my life and criminalize these events.” He told the court that the dissemination of information is “the essence of a journalist’s work” and is protected by federal law, and Art. 29 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation prohibits censorship, and this article is “irrevocable and unchangeable.” Finally, Dmitry Muratov recalled that quoting materials from foreign agents is not prohibited, and considered the decision of the Ministry of Justice to be contrary to the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
Lawyers for the Nobel laureate tried to subpoena Deputy Head of the Ministry of Justice Oleg Sviridenko as the official who signed the order to include Dmitry Muratov in the register of foreign agents. The representative of the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Vorobyov, said that such a call is not necessary, since he, Mr. Vorobyov, has a power of attorney from the head of the department. Judge Natalya Khairetdinova rejected both the petition and the claim as a whole.
Dmitry Muratov in 2021 received Nobel Peace Prize for "efforts to defend freedom of speech, which is an essential condition for democracy and lasting peace." A few days after this, President Vladimir Putin said that a journalist would not be declared a foreign agent in Russia if he “does not give a reason for this” and does not “use the Nobel Prize as a shield to do something that violates Russian law.” Around the same time, the head of state stated that “the law does not prohibit having your own opinion on any issue.” Since then, the legislation has been tightened: in July 2023 were signed laws depriving foreign agents of not only financial but also property support from the state, as well as imposing fines of up to 300 thousand rubles. for persons helping foreign agents to circumvent the prohibitions established by law. The head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, stated that by including Dmitry Muratov in the list of foreign agents, the Russian authorities are trying to silence the journalist.
During the trial, Mr. Muratov himself described what was happening in the words of the writer Leo Tolstoy: “Obscurantism is terrible, but obscurantists are funny.” His lawyers said they would appeal the court's decision.