July 6, 2018 / 11:56 PM / 5 months ago

U.S. accuses Russia of stifling press freedom after court fines radio

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department accused Moscow of stifling press freedom and media independence on Friday after a Russian court fined the U.S. government-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty for violating Russia’s “foreign agent” law.

RFE/RL said the court found it guilty on Thursday of not complying fully with Moscow’s foreign agent law and fined it 100,000 roubles ($1,585), which the broadcaster described as the latest step in a campaign against its operations.

“The Russian government continues to stifle press freedom and media independence,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “We condemn the selective targeting of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America under Russia’s law on ‘foreign agent’ media outlets.”

Russia designated RFE/RL and Voice of America as foreign agents in December. The decision required the outlets to include in any information they publish or broadcast to Russian audiences a statement mentioning their status as foreign agents.

The Russian designation was seen as retaliation for what Moscow said was unacceptable U.S. pressure on Russian media in the United States.

U.S. intelligence officials have accused the Kremlin of using Russian media it finances to influence U.S. voters. Washington last year forced Russian state broadcaster RT to register its U.S.-based affiliate as a foreign agent under U.S. law.

Nauert said the Russian State Duma had approved additional legislation that could enable the government to extend the foreign agent designation to individual journalists in addition to media outlets.

“The United States again calls on the Russian government to uphold its commitments ... to respect the exercise of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, in Russia,” Nauert said.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Leslie Adler

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