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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed into law a law that would punish journalists with jail time for publishing information that contradicts officials’ statements about Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Under the new law, reporters face up to 15 years in prison if they report what authorities consider to be false reports about the military. The legislation was passed by both houses of the Russian parliament.
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Tim Davie, director general of the BBC, said the law criminalizes independent journalism and said the outlet had suspended the work of its reporters and staff in Russia.
“Our BBC News service in Russian will continue to operate from outside Russia,” he said on Thursday. “The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to put them at risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs.”
He added that BBC journalists will continue to report in Ukraine and around the world on the war.
Russian officials have denied media reports of the army’s struggles to advance its invasion of Ukraine amid heavy fighting and nightly airstrikes. They declined to label the conflict a war or an invasion, calling it a “special military operation” instead.
Russia has also accused the West of spreading lies about its battlefield casualties in a bid to turn the Russian public against the war. Lawmakers provided examples of “fakes” about military operations, including old photos of burnt-out Ukrainian Armed Forces military equipment that was photoshopped to have Russian military markings, the Moscow Times reported.
Since the beginning of the military incursion into Ukraine, several Russian media have suspended their operations under pressure from the Kremlin. Additionally, Moscow has restricted social media – blocking Facebook and Twitter – as part of a censorship crackdown.
Officials said the move came after the company restricted access to state-run media on its platform.
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In a statement Thursday, Nick Clegg, President of Global Affairs at Facebook, said “soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their daily means of connecting with family and friends, and prevented from speak out”.