Russia blocks Facebook for ‘discrimination’ against state media

Russia blocked Facebook on Friday and moved to impose harsh prison sentences for spreading “false news” about the military as part of efforts to quell dissent over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian media organization Roskomnadzor said Facebook, which is one of the most important social media platforms, has been blocked due to several cases of “discrimination” against Russian state media.

Earlier today, Russian lawmakers backed legislation that would impose harsh prison sentences and fines for spreading “false news.”

Russia’s lower house of parliament said in a statement that if false news stories “lead to dire consequences, (the legislation) threatens imprisonment of up to 15 years.”

Amendments were also passed to fine or imprison people seeking sanctions against Russia.

The BBC, which has a large office in Moscow and runs a Russian-language news website, responded by announcing it would cease operations in Russia.

“This legislation appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism,” the BBC’s director-general, Tim Davy, said in a statement.

He warned that journalists could face “the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their job.”

Two Russian newspapers, the Nobel Prize-winning newspaper Novaya Gazeta and business news website The Bell, said on Friday that they would stop covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to protect their journalists.

The past year has seen an unprecedented crackdown on independent and critical voices in Russia that has intensified since the invasion.

Russia’s media watchdog said on Friday it had restricted access to the BBC and other independent media sites, further tightening internet censorship.

Roskomnadzor, at the request of prosecutors, said the independent news site Medusa, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, and the Russian-language site of US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Svoboda were “limited.”

Valery Fadeev, head of the Kremlin’s Human Rights Council, accused Western media of being behind the “massive flow of false information coming from Ukraine” and said the council had set up a project to stop it.

In another attack on critical voices, Russian police on Friday conducted searches at the office of the country’s largest rights group, Memorial, which it ordered closed late last year, sparking international protests.

The Russian invasion has already claimed hundreds of lives, displaced more than a million people, and sparked allegations of war crimes.

Western-led sanctions against Russia in response caused the ruble to collapse, forcing the central bank to impose a 30 percent tax on hard currency sales after a run on lenders.

Moscow has few economic tools to respond with, but the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, on Friday adopted a bill that would freeze any assets inside Russia of foreigners who “violate the rights of Russians.”

The Russian media was instructed to publish only information provided by official sources, describing the invasion as a military operation.

For now, the invasion appears to mark the beginning of the end for what remains of Russia’s independent media.

Ekho Mosvky – a liberal-leaning radio station largely owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom – said on Thursday it would be shutting down after being taken off air over its coverage of the Ukraine war.

Authorities on Tuesday shut down the Ekho Moskvy website and suspended broadcasts as a punishment for spreading “intentionally false information” about the conflict.

Editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov said on Telegram on Friday that the station would delete its website and social media accounts.

Another independent newspaper, Znak, said on Friday that it had stopped operating “due to the large number of restrictions that have appeared recently on the work of the media in Russia.”

The BBC said this week that the audience for its Russian-language news site had “tripled… with a record reach of 10.7 million people last week”.

A BBC spokesperson said the company would “continue our efforts to make BBC News available in Russia, and around the world” despite the restrictions.

(AFP)

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