Russia declares independent news outlet SOTA an 'undesirable' organisation

LONDON (Reuters) -Russian prosecutors on Thursday labelled the independent media outlet SOTA an "undesirable" organisation, in what amounts to ban of its work in the country.

The designation, which Moscow has handed to a host of Russian independent media as well as Western nonprofits, could put anyone working for the outlet or sharing its content online at risk of punishment by authorities.

SOTA is known for its coverage of anti-Kremlin protests and court trials of prominent opposition figures such as the late Alexei Navalny.

Russia's prosecutor general's office said in a statement that SOTA's publications "are nothing but blatant attempts to destabilise the socio-political situation in Russia".

"Such activities, obviously encouraged by so-called Western masterminds, aim to undermine the spiritual and moral foundations of Russian society," prosecutors said.

SOTA denied it has links to "Western handlers" in a statement published to its Telegram channel.

"We certainly oppose the war and the Putin regime and adhere to objective journalistic standards in our work," it said.

In emailed comments to Reuters, SOTA declined to say how many contributors it has in Russia, citing "risks", without elaborating. The outlet regularly posts videos from inside Russian courtrooms.

The "undesirable" designation, SOTA added, is a "recognition of our merit".

The group vowed to continue to work. But in its statement on Telegram, SOTA also encouraged its readers in Russia to delete immediately any social media posts containing links to its materials.

"Being subscribed to us, however, is not a crime. Please stay tuned," SOTA said in its published statement.

(Reporting and writing by Lucy Papachristou; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Richard Chang)