MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities have blocked two online news outlets critical of the Kremlin, the latest move in the recent government crackdown on critical and independent media ahead of Russia’s September parliamentary elections.
Oktrytye Media and MBKh Media, which are backed by leading Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said Wednesday night their websites had become unavailable for users of most Russian internet providers. Khodorkovsky is a Russian tycoon who moved to London after spending a decade in prison in Russia on charges widely seen as political revenge for challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Both outlets said they had not received any notifications from authorities explaining why they were blocked.
According to Russia’s state registry of blocked websites, access to both news outletswas restricted upon orders of the Prosecutor General’s Office. The registry referred to a law allowing the blocking of websites that incite mass unrest, extremist activities or participation in unauthorized rallies.
Independent media and journalists in Russia have faced increased pressure ahead of the Sept. 19 vote, which is widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his rule before the 2024 presidential election.
The 68-year-old Russian leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to hold onto power until 2036.
In recent months, the government has designated a number of independent media outlets and journalists as “foreign agents” — a label that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations that could discredit the recipients — and raided the homes of several prominent reporters.
The publisher of one outlet that released investigative reports exposing alleged corruption and abuses by top officials and tycoons close to Putin was outlawed as an “undesirable” organization, membership in which is a criminal offense.