Russia’s parliament passed amendments late last week to the existing criminal code that mandate punishment for publishing or disseminating information on the invasion of Ukraine that contravenes the Kremlin narrative.
Penalties involve up to 15 years in prison and $5 million Ruble in fines.
The bill prohibits sharing information that the Russian state says, “distorts the purpose, role and tasks of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, as well as other formations during special military and other operations.”
Examples of prohibited information include referring to the invasion of Ukraine as an invasion or war rather than a ‘special military operation’ or ‘special peacekeeping operation,’ reporting the number of Russian troops killed, unless it’s a version first released by the Kremlin, reporting the number of Russian troops taken prisoner, reporting on major shelling of civilian areas in Ukrainian cities, or sharing versions of the above reports on social media.
Social media access has already been restricted in Russia since February.
Earlier this week, prior to the passage of the amendment to the criminal code, two prominent independent news broadcasters, Ekho Moskvy, a radio station, and TV Rain, the last independent TV station in Russia, were shut down by the Roskomnadzor, the Russian censor.
TV Rain completed their last broadcast for the foreseeable future last week, and Ekho Moskvy was abruptly switched off mid-broadcast. Many of the independent media editors and journalists were making plans to leave Russia.
Since the passage of the law, the BBC and other foreign news outlets suspended work in Russia as their journalists are in danger of punishment should they report anything other than Kremlin-approved storylines.
BBC Director-General Tim Davie stated on the BBC website that “this legislation appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism… The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs.”
BBC said record numbers of people had been accessing the Russian language version of their news site since the invasion of Ukraine began. To help consumers circumvent the new rules, the BBC posted an image with instructions for accessing their material using the Tor browser and the Psiphon app.