LONDON – On the day Russian troops poured into Ukraine, Russia’s state communications regulator Roskomnadzor put out a statement, demanding that media outlets only use official Russian sources to cover the “special operation” in Ukraine. Otherwise they could be blocked and face a fine of up to 5 million roubles.
Russian authorities, which did not comment for this article, have since doubled down on censorship in Russia. On March 4, lawmakers passed amendments that criminalised “discrediting” Russian armed forces or calling for sanctions against Russia.
Lawmakers made the spread of “fake” information an offence punishable with fines or a jail term of up to 15 years, a move that led some international news outlets to halt reporting in Russia.
Authorities also restricted access to Facebook and Twitter and blocked several independent media and Ukrainian websites.
In response, Twitter said people should have free and open access to the internet, particularly during times of crisis. Nick Clegg, president of global affairs for Facebook’s parent company Meta, said millions of ordinary Russians would be cut off from reliable information.
Several Russian media outlets suspended their work. Ekho Moskvy, a liberal radio station, was dissolved by its board after the prosecutor general’s office blocked its website over its coverage of the war. Television channel Rain suspended its work after its website was blocked. The Novaya Gazeta newspaper, whose editor Dmitry Muratov was a co-winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, said it would pause its work until the end of Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine.
Online censorship was already rising before the invasion. Ahead of the September elections last year, major internet outages were caused by a crackdown on websites linked to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and on technology used to circumvent online bans.
Around 200,000 websites were blocked in 2021, according to data from Roskomsvoboda, a group that monitors internet freedom in Russia. They included the website of OVD-Info, which has documented anti-Kremlin protests for years. This year, as of March 10, more than 46,000 sites have been blocked, according to Roskomsvoboda.
(reporting by Lena Masri; editing by Janet McBride)