MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Ministry of Justice said on Wednesday it had added a medical trade union with ties to jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny to its list of “foreign agents,” a move that could complicate its activities.
The ministry said in a statement it had moved against Russia’s Doctors Alliance, which distributes personal protective equipment to medical staff and supports doctors in defending their labour rights, after determining it had received foreign financing on more than one occasion and engaged in politics.
The “foreign agent” label, which carries negative Soviet-era connotations, subjects non-governmental organisations deemed to receive foreign funding for political activity to increased bureaucratic scrutiny and spot checks.
It also requires them to regularly report on their funding and spending, and attach the “foreign agent” label to their publications.
The move prompted outrage among Navalny’s supporters, while a spokeswoman for Russia’s Doctors Alliance wrote on Twitter that the ministry had not notified it of its addition to the list of “foreign agents.”
The group on Twitter later called the justice ministry’s statement absurd and said it would continue its work.
The organisation’s head, Anastasia Vasilyeva, is an ally of Navalny. She treated him in 2017 after he suffered a chemical burn to his right eye after an assault by pro-Kremlin activists.
Police arrested Vasilyeva in January for breaching COVID-19 restrictions at an unauthorised rally in support of the opposition politician. She was placed under house arrest.
“Does this mean that ‘foreign agents’ help our doctors while the authorities steal money?” Navalny’s team wrote on Twitter. “This shameful government has gone completely mad.”
The “foreign agent” law was broadened in 2019 to cover individuals and bloggers, something rights groups say threatens to stifle dissent.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Timothy Heritage/Andrew Osborn)