Factual, objective reporting in President Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation has long been risky. But after Russia’s February 24 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, journalists and citizens in Russia now face lengthy prison terms for accurately covering or protesting the war.
Pressure from the Kremlin’s media monitoring agency Roskomnadzor caused the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta to suspend operations in late March. Roskomnadzor had banned Novaya Gazeta‘s Editor-in-Chief Dmitry Muratov’s interview of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and threatened action under Russia’s ‘foreign agents’ law, which subjects journalists to fines, harassment and potential imprisonment.
Numerous other Russian independent media outlets also have suspended operations because of the Kremlin’s continued pressure on independent media, including Meduza, Dozhd TV and Ekho Moskvy. More than 150 journalists have fled Russia since the Kremlin’s full-scale war against Ukraine began, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Russian authorities also have detained over 15,000 demonstrators for peacefully opposing Putin’s brutal and unprovoked war, according to OVD-Info, a human rights group that tracks political arrests.
The Kremlin’s crackdown on freedom of expression is enabled by two laws enacted in March that make factual war reporting and anti-war protests punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
“No journalist is safe from the threat of serious charges under vaguely worded draconian laws that were often adopted in haste,” Reporters Without Borders says on its website.
The Kremlin also blocked Facebook and Instagram and limited access to Twitter to deny Russian citizens’ access to information about its aggression against Ukraine. Roskomnadzor also blocked Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Russian-language websites of Voice of America, the BBC and Germany’s Deutsche Welle.
On May 6, a Russian court ordered the arrest of Russian journalist Aleksander Nevzorov in absentia for reporting on Russia’s bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine. Nevzorov, who was in Israel in March, was charged with distributing “deliberately false” information, according to Voice of America.
Before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a court in Russia-occupied Crimea sentenced Vladyslav Yesypenko, a freelance journalist for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service, to six years in prison on charges that are widely regarded as being politically motivated and a consequence for his independent reporting. Yesypenko says authorities “want to discredit the work of freelance journalists who really want to show the things that really happen in Crimea.”
RFE/RL President and chief executive officer Jamie Fly told the Center for Strategic and International Studies March 30 that news outlets have long faced restrictions in Russia, but that pressure has increased because of the “Kremlin’s desire to retain control over any public conversation” inside Russia about its war against Ukraine. As a result of that pressure, RFE/RL recently suspended its operations in Moscow.