Putin signs 'fake' news law that would jail journalists over war reports

Moscow has also limited social media as part of a censorship crackdown

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Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law Friday legislation that would punish journalists with prison time for publishing news that contradicts officials' statements about Moscow's war in Ukraine. 

Under the new law, reporters face up to 15 years in prison if they report what authorities deem as false reports about the military. The legislation was passed by both chambers of the Russian parliament. 

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law legislation that could punish journalists with up to 15 years in prison for reporting so-called "fake" news about his military invasion of Ukraine.       

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law legislation that could punish journalists with up to 15 years in prison for reporting so-called "fake" news about his military invasion of Ukraine.        (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool)

Tim Davie, the director-general for the BBC, said the law criminalizes independent journalism and said the media outlet has suspended the work of its journalists and staff in Russia. 

"Our BBC News service in Russian will continue to operate from outside Russia," he said Thursday. "The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs."

He added that BBC journalists will continue to report in Ukraine and around the world on the war. 

Russian officials have denied media reports of difficulties by the military to advance its invasion of Ukraine amid heavy fighting and nightly airstrikes. They have refused to characterize the conflict as a war or invasion, instead calling it a "special military operation."

Russia has also accused the West of spreading falsehoods about the number of its casualties on the battlefield in an effort to turn the Russian public against the war. Lawmakers provided examples of "fakes" about military operations that include old photos of burned military equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces that have been photoshopped to have markings of the Russian military, The Moscow Times reported. 

Since the beginning of the military incursion into Ukraine, several Russian media outlets have suspended operations amid pressure from the Kremlin. In addition, Moscow has limited social media – blocking Facebook and Twitter – as part of a censorship crackdown. 

The Russian State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament in Moscow. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

The Russian State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament in Moscow. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Officials said the move came after the company restricted access to state-run media on its platform. 

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In a Thursday statement, Nick Clegg, Facebook's president of global affairs, said "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."