The controversial ‘citizen journalism’ organization has been banned by the prosecutor general’s office
Russia’s prosecutor general’s office on Friday labeled investigative journalism group Bellingcat, as well as two other non-profits, “undesirable organizations.” The designation, which is expected to be formalized by the country’s Justice Ministry shortly, effectively means a ban on operating in Russia.
The prosecutors targeted both UK-based Bellingcat Ltd. and its Netherlands branch Stichting Bellingcat. Latvia-based media outlet The Insider and Czechia-based Central and Eastern European Law Initiative (CEELI) non-profit were also deemed “undesirable.” All of the organizations pose a threat to Russia’s “constitutional order and security,” the prosecutors said in a statement.
The designation essentially amounts to a complete ban on the groups’ operations in Russia, entailing the mandatory closure of all local chapters and freezing of assets. Attempts to circumvent the ban carry administrative and criminal penalties.
Over the past few months, Russia has repeatedly targeted Bellingcat, placing the supposedly independent group under various restrictions. Back in October 2021, Russia labeled Bellingcat a “foreign agent” – a status that placed certain restrictions on its operations in Russia. Further action was taken by Russia’s internet and media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, in March, when it blocked access to its website.
Founded back in 2014, Bellingcat portrays itself as an independent investigative group specializing in fact-checking and open-source intelligence, with both professional and citizen journalists contributing. The group’s favorite topics include armed conflicts, various criminal networks and human rights abuses.
Bellingcat has repeatedly targeted Russia in its publications, pinning the blame on Moscow for the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Donbass, as well as for various incidents related to the war in Syria and even the alleged poisoning of prominent Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny. The group’s findings have been repeatedly amplified by leading Western media outlets, which routinely take them at face value.
Moscow, however, has on numerous occasions called Bellingcat’s credibility into question, challenging the group’s findings with its own data. The head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, Sergey Naryshkin, last August questioned Bellingcat’s proclaimed independence, pointing out that its team at least partly comprised former intelligence operatives from Western countries. The sole purpose of the group was to “put pressure on either the country [Russia], or individuals and entities,” the spy boss alleged.
“They use dishonest methods. And the information that is used in such cases is false, unverified, it has its own goals… They are ready to perform any task, because they do it for money, not objectively,” Naryshkin asserted.