Russia outlaws war reporting and gags debate as Ukraine disaster unfolds
Russia has enacted two laws to criminalise war reporting and protesting against the war in Ukraine with sentences of up to 15 years in prison, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The legislation outlaws “fake news” about the Russian military, calling for the war to end and for sanctions against Russian targets.
The two laws were fast-tracked through both chambers unanimously on Friday and outlaw the use of the words “war” and “invasion”. They are not limited to Ukraine and apply to any Russian deployment.
Video-sharing platform TikTok has blocked Russian users from posting videos in response to the Kremlin’s media censorship.
The app, which is popular with young Russians, has also stopped showing Russian videos shared from abroad.
“In light of Russia’s new ‘fake news’ law, we have no choice but to suspend live-streaming and new content to our video service while we review the safety implications of this law,” TikTok tweeted. “Our in-app messaging service will not be affected.”
HRW said there is a threat the new laws could be applied retrospectively.
In September last year, a court fined Igor Kalyapin, chairman of the Russian Committee Against Torture, with “distributing material” from an “undesirable” foreign organisation.
The group had posted that a Czech humanitarian organisation, People in Need, honored Kalyapin’s human rights work. The Czech NGO was deemed “undesirable” in 2019, two years after Kalyapin’s group posted the article. The law was applied with the courts deciding the post was a “continuous violation”.
Any Russian who has called for an end to the war, protested, distributed allegations of abuses committed by the Russian military or called for sanctions could be prosecuted, HRW said.
The New York-based rights group called on the international community to refuse any future extradition requests for Russian nationals.
“The level of control and censorship the Kremlin has imposed, infringes on both the freedom of expression and the right of access to information and cannot be justified under international law even in times of war,” HRW said.
“The Kremlin is wiping out all options for dissent to ensure that brave anti-war protesters do not return to the streets,” HRW’s regional director Hugh Williamson said. “When President Putin goes after such a fundamental right – the cornerstone of democracy – with such totalitarian tactics, he is dispensing with any pretence that his government has any respect for rule of law, human rights, or democracy.”
The Kremlin will struggle to prevent the reality of the violence in Ukraine from being shared across Russia. Picture credit: YouTube