Washington, D.C. — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) strongly condemns the blocking of its Current Time TV and Russian-language Crimea.Realities websites in Russia. Access to the sites was blocked after RFE/RL refused to comply with Russian state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor’s demands to delete information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the time of publication, the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar versions of Crimea.Realities remained available in Russia.
Said RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly, “The Kremlin is desperate to prevent the Russian people from learning the facts about the death and destruction the Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing. We will continue to provide the truth to the Russian people at this critical moment.”
This is not the first time Roskomnadzor has sought to intimidate RFE/RL. Most recently, in early February, it threatened to block eight RFE/RL websites serving audiences in Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia unless they took down articles tied to corruption investigations by jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s team. RFE/RL refused to comply with these demands. Some other Russian news organizations have agreed to comply.
In anticipation that the Kremlin could act on its threats, RFE/RL has been informing its audiences about how to continue to access its reporting in the event that its websites are blocked. Russian-language reporting by Crimea.Realities can be accessed on a mirror site. A Current Time TV mirror site is also available and material can be accessed using VPN client nThlink. In addition, audiences can subscribe to Current Time’s pages on Telegram, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok or watch its broadcasts live on YouTube and subscribe to its channel. All materials from the Current Time site are also available on our Google Play and App Store applications, which include a built-in VPN.
In a clear sign of the value audiences place on RFER/RL’s reporting of the war, 527percent more Ukrainians and 275 percent more Russians came to its websites on the first day of the invasion (February 24) than the same day the previous week. RFE/RL Ukrainian Service websites, which include Crimea.Realities and Donbas.Realities, recorded 4.7 million page views that same day, a 313 percent increase over the previous day and a 557 percent rise over the same day one week before. Current Time TV’s live coverage of the early hours of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was viewed more than 10 million times across social platforms, including YouTube and Facebook, reflecting a 25-fold increase over the same day the previous week for Current Time’s morning show.
The blocking of RFE/RL’s websites marks another sharp escalation of intimidation tactics by Russian authorities. Since the start of the war, several journalists have been detained and harassed:
- Russian Service reporters Sergey Khazov-Cassia and Andrey Kiselev were detained and later released on February 26 in the city of Belgorod in South-Western Russia, while covering anti-war protests.
- Three Russian Service journalists—Ivan Voronin, Artyom Radygin and Nikita Tatarskiy—were detained and held for several hours by Moscow police on February 24 while covering anti-war protests.
- The home of Anton Mesnianko, a Russian Service freelancer in Russia-occupied Crimea, was searched on February 25 by FSB agents. According to a note received by the Service from Mesnianko’s email address, the search was carried out as part of a check for extremist activity and “encroachments on the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.”
In addition, on February 16, a Russia-controlled court in occupied Crimea sentenced RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko to six years in prison for the alleged possession and transport of explosives, a charge he has steadfastly rejected.
In the past year, Roskomnadzor has issued 1,040 violations against RFE/RL that will result in fines of more than $13.4 million for its refusal to submit to the unjust and invasive content labeling provisions of Russia’s “foreign agent” law. In addition, 18 RFE/RL journalists have been designated as individual “foreign agents.” On February 9, RFE/RL filed its final written submission with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), asking for a hearing to consider the merits of the legal case it filed in May 2021 challenging Russia’s “foreign agent” laws.
On January 26, RFE/RL’s Russian Service was fined 3 million rubles ($39,000) for the alleged “public distribution of knowingly false information about the activities of the U.S.S.R. during World War II.” In fact, the existence of the published material is backed by documents from Russian archives – and RFE/RL is being held liable for actions that are not punishable under Russian law. RFE/RL is appealing the fine, not least to help defend Russia’s shrinking space for press freedom.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through USAGM.
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Contact Martins Zvaners
Deputy Director of Media and Public Affairs, Washington, DC