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BBC Suspends Operations in Russia After Censorship Law Is Passed

todayMarch 4, 2022 7

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The BBC said it was temporarily suspending its operations in Russia on Friday after the country’s parliament passed a censorship law that penalizes anyone deemed to be “discrediting” the Russian military with 15 years in prison.

The British broadcaster said the legislation “appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism” and said it had “no other option” than to stop its journalists and support staff from working.

The company, which said this week that its recent coverage was drawing record audiences in Russia, said on Friday that it will still offer Russian-language news from outside Russia and that its journalists in Ukraine will continue to report on the Russian invasion.

“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,” the BBC’s director-general, Tim Davie, said in a statement. “We remain committed to making accurate, independent information available to audiences around the world, including the millions of Russians who use our news services.”

The new law, which could take effect as soon as Saturday, builds on the Kremlin’s insistence that characterizations of its attacks on Ukraine as a “war” or “invasion” rather than a “special military operation” amount to disinformation.

Independent Russian news outlets closed in recent days ahead of the law’s passing.

The BBC’s decision comes as President Vladimir V. Putin has been dismantling the last vestiges of a Russian free press. On Thursday, the pillars of Russia’s independent broadcast media collapsed under pressure from the state.

Echo of Moscow, the freewheeling radio station founded by Soviet dissidents in 1990 and that symbolized Russia’s new freedoms, was “liquidated” by its board. TV Rain, the youthful independent television station that calls itself “the optimistic channel,” said it would suspend operations indefinitely.

And Dmitri A. Muratov, the journalist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said that his newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which survived the murders of six of its journalists, could be on the verge of shutting down as well.

On Wednesday, the BBC said it would use shortwave radio frequencies to broadcast news in English in Kyiv and in parts of Russia.

On Thursday, Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, accused the broadcaster of playing “a determined role in undermining the Russian stability and security.” Early on Friday, the BBC reported that access to its website in Russia appeared to be restricted.

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