Russia fights back in information war with jail warning
History stopped in 1936 – after that, there was only propaganda. -George Orwell
Russian lawmakers have approved legislation that could see people put behind bars for up to 15 years if found guilty of peddling so-called false information ‘Fake News’ in relation to the invasion of Ukraine.
On Friday, the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament voted to introduce the law to heavily penalize citizens spreading fake allegations against the country’s armed forces.
Lawmakers passed amendments to the criminal code making the spread of “fake” information an offence punishable with fines or jail terms. They also imposed fines for public calls for sanctions against Russia.
Russian officials have repeatedly said that false information has been spread by Russia’s enemies such as the United States and its Western European allies in an attempt to sow discord among the Russian people.
The chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, weighed in on the move, insisting that it is needed “to protect our soldiers, officers, in order to protect the truth.”
“Literally by tomorrow, this law will force punishment – and very tough punishment – on those who lied and made statements which discredited our armed forces,” he said.
Early this week both the European Union banned Russian state-controlled media outlets RT and Sputnik. Facebook owner Meta (FB.O), Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O), YouTube and TikTok are already blocking access to RT and Sputnik in the EU.
Twitter (TWTR.N) has said it would comply with the EU ban.
Russia’s response was to adopt the so-called “fake news” law which Putin signed on Friday. After blocking access in-country to foreign news websites like The BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Deutsche Welle for reporting information that the Kremlin claimed has disinformation the Russian parliament passed the new law which does the following:
- Anyone spreading what the government decides is “fake” news about the country’s military faces a jail term of up to 15 years.
- A sliding scale of punishment is also included in the new legislation, including fines, for anyone found to have discredited the Russian military or spoken out in favour of sanctions against the country.
The new law was responsible for one foreign news organisation after another announcing a pause on reporting from Russia the claim being for fear, that reporting which casts Russia in a negative light could be used as a pretext by the authorities to imprison reporters.
Defaming the Russian army could result in a fine of almost $13,500, or three years in jail. An offender could spend up to 15 years behind bars for intentionally spreading ‘fake’ information that causes significant damage to national security, under revisions to the existing law.
Anyone calling for anti-Russian sanctions may also find themselves in hot water. If deemed to be guilty, they could receive a fine of $5,000 or a three-year prison sentence. Later on Friday, the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, adopted the legislation, meaning that it will be sent to President Vladimir Putin for his approval.
On Thursday, Volodin claimed that the measure was necessary to counter what he deemed to be the impacts of a US disinformation campaign. “American social networks, controlled by Washington, launched an information war against Russia,” he insisted. “We cannot help but react to what is happening. It is necessary to make a decision to combat the spread of fake information. It is important to us that the information shared is true, and those who create and distribute it are responsible,” Volodin wrote.
Putin, who has described the West as an “empire of lies”, said the “special military operation” was essential to ensure Russian security after the United States enlarged the NATO military alliance to Russia’s borders and supported pro-Western leaders in Kyiv.
Russian officials do not use the word “invasion” and say Western media have failed to report on what they cast as the “genocide” of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine.
Russia’s communications watchdog said on Friday it had blocked the websites of the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Deutsche Welle and other media outlets.
“Access has been restricted to a host of information resources owned by foreigners,” the watchdog, known as Roskomnadzor, said in a statement.
“The grounds for restricting access to these information resources on the territory of the Russian Federation was their deliberate and systematic circulation of materials containing false information.”
Without a hint of irony or reference to the EU, UK takedown of RT Today and other media outlets the BBC said access to accurate information was a fundamental human right and it would continue its efforts to make its news available in Russia.
Of course here in the UK Journalists could face up to 14 years in prison for stories embarrassing the Government under proposed changes to the Official Secrets Act that would treat them like foreign SPIES
A new proposal for so-called civil orders would create “a power of last resort that would enable [the government] to impose a range of restrictions on particular individuals”. The orders “could include a range of restrictive and preventative measures, including measures to prevent an individual associating with certain people or from visiting specified sensitive locations” and ought to “be imposed by the executive rather than the courts”. The orders would create “a significant deterrent against those who may be vulnerable and susceptible to foreign state coercion and influence”.
The process began in 2016 when the Law Commission – a statutory body that reviews the law in England and Wales – started work on “protecting official data”, claiming reforms were needed “to bring the law into the 21st century”. Changes were, supposedly, justified because of the ability of “hostile states” to conduct cyber-attacks and because the potential impact of spying and leaks had increased.
Initial proposals by the commission in 2017 did not attract much attention until an article in The Register, the online technology publication, told readers that “proposals in the UK for a swingeing new Espionage Act that could jail journalists as spies have been developed in haste by legal advisers”. The article pointed out that the proposals would put leaking and whistleblowing in the same category as spying for foreign powers – and that leakers and journalists could face the same extended jail sentences as foreign agents. Sentences would apply even if – like Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning – the leaker was not British, nor in Britain, or was acting in the public interest.
Julian Assange still languishes at HM’s pleasure for exposing US war crimes during the Iraq war, facin g a sentence of 165 years for telling the truth.