Russia arrests opposition journalist in absentia over Mariupol hospital bombing ‘fakes’

A prominent Russian opposition journalist has been arrested in absentia for publishing ‘false’ information about the Russian military airstrike on a maternity hospital in southern Ukraine, Interfax reported Friday.

Alexander Nevzorov, a former lawmaker who worked with independent media like Dozhd and Ekho Moskvy, is one of dozens of Russians charged under Russia’s new law that criminalizes “forgery” about the armed forces.

The Basmanny District Court in Moscow sentenced him to two months’ arrest in absentia for posting “deliberately false” information on social media about the bombing of a maternity hospital by Russia on March 9.

Nevzorov’s posts, which criticized the Russian military for the strike, “were accompanied by unreliable photographs of civilians affected by the shelling”, the Russian investigative committee said in March.

Russian officials both dismissed the attack as being organized by Ukraine and justified it by claiming that the hospital was being used by extremist Ukrainian forces and that all medical staff and patients had long since left.

Officials also baselessly portrayed the pregnant women pictured fleeing the shelling as actors in the crisis.

The law against “false” armed forces, passed just days after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, punishes perpetrators with 10 to 15 years in prison.

Critics say the law is being used to silence anti-war voices and reporting that doesn’t follow the Kremlin’s narrative of what it calls a “special military operation”.

Nevzorov called the charges against him “ridiculous” in a Telegram article and urged security forces to look at each other before accusing him of committing crimes.

In an interview in March, he said the case against him was intended to signal to journalists in Russia that “the regime will spare no one and any attempt to understand criminal warfare will end in prison.”

Russian authorities have waged an unprecedented crackdown on independent and critical voices since the invasion began on February 24.

Hundreds of journalists have reportedly fled Russia since Moscow launched its “special military operation”, and virtually all independent media have been blocked or shut down.

Nevzorov was also tagged a “foreign agent” on April 22, a designation that subjects those tagged to stifling bureaucratic requirements.

AFP contributed reporting.

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