Russia passes law targeting free speech and pulls plug on Twitter and Facebook

·Senior Editor
·4 min read

Russia's government moved Friday to suppress free speech and criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, passing a law punishing those who promote what authorities deem as “fake news” about the Russian military with 15 years in prison.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the new law that was passed earlier in the day by Russia's parliament.

“Literally by tomorrow, this law will force punishment — and very tough punishment — on those who lied and made statements which discredited our armed forces,” Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia’s State Duma legislative body, said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

In response, CNN said it would stop broadcasting in Russia.

"CNN will stop broadcasting in Russia while we continue to evaluate the situation and our next steps moving forward," a spokesman for the cable network said in a statement.

Bloomberg News also announced it was suspending its coverage in Russia as a result of the new law.

“The change to the criminal code, which seems designed to turn any independent reporter into a criminal purely by association, makes it impossible to continue any semblance of normal journalism inside the country," the company said in its own statement Friday evening.

The new Russian law came as scenes of destruction resulting from that country's invasion of neighboring Ukraine have played non-stop on television screens and social media sites around the world, hardening opposition to Putin.

On Friday, Russia also blocked access for its citizens to Facebook and Twitter.

In a written statement, Russia's media regulator Roskomnadzor said on Friday that Facebook, whose parent company is called Meta, had violated federal law by restricting access to Russian state-owned accounts, which the regulator said violated "fundamental human rights and freedoms, as well as the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens."

Nick Clegg, Meta's president of global affairs, issued a statement on behalf of the company.

“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out,” Clegg said in the statement, which was posted to Twitter. “We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available to people to safely and securely express themselves and organize for action.”

Despite the action by the Russian government, Meta has still not decided whether to pull advertising for its products in Russia. In a Friday interview with Bloomberg, Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president for global business, said the company was "actively looking" at doing so.

Russian authorities also blocked access to Twitter, according to MediaZona, a Russian independent media outlet.

"Russia’s government is also throttling Twitter, Facebook and Instagram platforms that tens of millions of Russia’s citizens rely on to access independent information and opinion," the U.S. State Department said in a statement released on Friday, Reuters reported.

Twitter and Facebook logos.
Damien Meyer via Getty Images, Chesnot/Getty Images

Social media postings depicting the horrors of the war in Ukraine and the bravery of its citizens and President Volodymyr Zelensky have helped sway world opinion staunchly against Russian forces. But Friday's actions to further restrict access to information about the conflict may prevent Russian citizens from receiving a fuller picture of what is unfolding.

The BBC announced on Friday that it was also temporarily halting its operations inside Russia. With its programming restricted there by the government, the BBC posted advice in Russian on Friday to social media on how to access its network.

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine eight days ago, antiwar protests have sprung up across Russia, with tens of thousands of people risking arrest to voice their displeasure with Putin.

On Tuesday night, the Russian government took down the website for Dozhd, the last remaining independent television news outlet operating in the country. In a statement, a prosecutor's office said the site was shuttered because it had spread “deliberately false information about the actions of Russian forces as part of a special operation," Vice News reported.

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