Russia to punish ‘fake’ war news and block Facebook and Twitter

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DUSSELDORF, Germany — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday stepped up a crackdown on media outlets and individuals who do not toe the Kremlin line on the war in Ukraine, blocking Facebook and Twitter and signing into law a bill that criminalizes the intentional dissemination of which Moscow considers to be “false” reports.

The action against the social media giants follows blockages imposed on the BBC, the US government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Latvian website Meduza. The government’s sweeping action against foreign media that publish news in Russian aims to establish even tighter controls on the news domestic audiences see about the invasion of Ukraine.

State communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said it cut off access to Twitter and Facebook in accordance with a decision by the attorney general’s office. The watchdog has previously accused Twitter of failing to remove content banned by Russian authorities and slowing access to it.

The bill, quickly approved by both houses of the Kremlin-controlled parliament and signed by Putin, imposes prison terms of up to 15 years for those who spread information that goes against the government’s narrative Russian on the war.

Russian authorities have repeatedly denounced reports of Russian military setbacks or civilian deaths in Ukraine as “fake” news. State media is calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” rather than a “war” or an “invasion.”

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, said the measure “would force those who lied and made statements discrediting our armed forces to face very serious sanctions”.

“I want everyone to understand, and society to understand, that we are doing this to protect our soldiers and our officers, and to protect the truth,” he added.

The law provides for penalties of up to three years or fines for spreading what authorities consider to be false news about the military, but the maximum penalty is 15 years for cases deemed to have resulted in ” serious consequences”.

In blocking Facebook, Roskomnadzor cited its alleged “discrimination” against Russian media and state information resources. The agency said in a statement that restrictions introduced by Facebook owner Meta on Russian news channel RT and other state-controlled media violate Russian law.

Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta, said on Twitter in response to Russia’s action that “millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their daily means of connecting with family and their friends and prevented from expressing themselves”.

“We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available for people to speak out safely and organize for action,” Clegg added.

Russian media blocks on the five foreign media outlets are among the most influential and often critical foreign media publishing in Russian.

Roskomnadzor said that these media had published “false information” on topics such as “the methods of conducting combat activities (attacks on civilians, strikes on civilian infrastructure), the number of casualties of the armed forces of the Federation of Russia”. and casualties among the civilian population.

The BBC said it was temporarily halting the work of all its journalists and support staff in Russia while it assessed the implications of the new law. BBC director-general Tim Davie said the legislation “appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism”.

“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 said.

Davie said the BBC’s Russian language news service would continue to operate from outside Russia.

Earlier today, the BBC posted instructions on Twitter on how Russian readers could circumvent the block using apps or the “dark web”.

“Access to accurate and independent information is a fundamental human right that should not be denied to the Russian people, millions of whom rely on BBC News every week. We will continue our efforts to make BBC News available in Russia and beyond. of the world,” the BBC said.

Earlier this week, the BBC announced it was restoring shortwave radio transmission to Ukraine and parts of Russia so people can listen to its programs with basic equipment.

Some well-known media outlets in Russia have chosen to shut down rather than face heavy restrictions on what they can report. The Znak news site announced it was closing on Friday morning, shortly after parliament approved the bill. On Thursday, Russia’s main independent radio station Ekho Moskvy was shut down and independent TV channel Dozdh suspended operations after receiving a shutdown threat from authorities.

Authorities also continued a broad effort to target human rights organizations.

Authorities raided the offices of Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and largest human rights organizations. According to members of Memorial, the police provided no explanation and there was no warning.

“The police refused to let me and the lawyer in without explanation, and when I tried not to let in the reinforcements who arrived with bulletproof vests and masks, they threatened to use force if I don’t let them in,” International Memorial President Yan Rachinsky said, “That’s the level of justice today in the capital of Russia.”

Another prominent human rights group, Civic Assistance, also had its Moscow office raided.

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Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London contributed.

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Follow all AP stories on the Russian invasion of Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

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