News organizations suspend work in Russia over ‘fake news’ jail terms
The BBC announced on Friday that it was suspending the work of its journalists in Russia after lawmakers decided to impose harsh prison sentences for publishing “fake news” about the military as part of efforts to stifle dissent over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The BBC, which has a large office in Moscow and runs a Russian-language news site, reacted after lawmakers backed new legislation imposing prison terms and fines for publishing ‘knowingly false information’ on the Internet. ‘army.
“This legislation appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism,” BBC director-general Tim Davie said in a statement.
He warned that journalists could face “the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their job”.
The legal crackdown leaves the broadcaster “no choice but to temporarily suspend the work of all BBC News journalists and their support staff within the Russian Federation”, Davie said.
The lower house of parliament said in a statement that if the fake news “results in serious consequences, [the legislation] threat of imprisonment for up to 15 years.”
Amendments were also passed to fine or imprison people calling for sanctions against Russia with prison terms.
Two Russian media outlets, Nobel Prize-winning newspaper Novaya Gazeta and business news site The Bell, said on Friday they would stop reporting on the Russian invasion of Ukraine to protect their journalists.
The past year has seen an unprecedented crackdown on independent and critical voices in Russia that has intensified since the invasion.
Speaker of Parliament Vyacheslav Volodin has spoken out against foreign social media after Facebook was briefly inaccessible in Russia on Friday.
“All of these IT companies, starting with Instagram and ending with the others, are based in the United States of America. It is clear that they are being used as weapons. They are vehicles of hatred and lies. We must oppose it,” he said.
Russia’s media watchdog said on Friday it had restricted access to the BBC and other independent media websites, further tightening controls on the internet.
Foreign media restricted
Independent news site Meduza, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Russian-language site Svoboda were “restricted”, Roskomnadzor said, following a request from prosecutors.
Valery Fadeyev, the head of the Kremlin’s human rights council, accused Western media of being behind “a huge flow of false information from Ukraine” and said the council had set up a project to stop it.
In another attack on critical voices, Russian police were Friday raiding the office of the country’s largest rights group, Memorial, which was ordered to close late last year, prompting an international outcry.
The Russian invasion has already claimed hundreds of lives, displaced more than a million people and sparked allegations of war crimes.
Sanctions imposed by the West on Russia in retaliation sent the ruble into a tailspin, forcing the central bank to impose a 30% tax on hard currency sales after a run on lenders.
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Moscow has few economic tools to respond, but the Duma, or lower house, passed a bill on Friday that would freeze all assets in Russia of foreigners “violating the rights of Russians”.
Russian media have been instructed to only publish information provided by official sources, which portrays the invasion as a military operation.
For now, it seems the invasion has marked the beginning of the end for what remains of Russia’s independent media.
Ekho Mosvky – a liberal-leaning radio station majority-owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom – announced on Thursday that it would shut down after being taken off the air for its coverage of the war in Ukraine.
Authorities on Tuesday blocked Ekho Moskvy’s website and shut down the station as punishment for spreading “deliberately false information” about the conflict.
Its editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov said on Telegram on Friday that the station would take down its website and social media accounts.
Another independent outlet, Znak, said on Friday it was stopping work “due to the large number of restrictions that have recently emerged for media work in Russia.”
The BBC said this week that its Russian-language news site’s audience had “more than tripled…with a record reach of 10.7 million people last week”.
A BBC spokesperson said the company would “continue its efforts to make BBC News available in Russia and the rest of the world” despite the restrictions.