GENEVA (Reuters) – A Russian law giving Moscow greater powers to crack down on independent journalism puts Russia in a “total information blackout” over the war in Ukraine, independent UN experts said on Friday.
Moscow, whose forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, last week blocked Facebook and other websites and passed a law that imposes a prison sentence of up to 15 years for intentionally spreading ” false” information about the army.
The move prompted the BBC, Bloomberg and other foreign media to suspend reporting in the country, although the BBC said it was resuming English reporting from Russia on March 8 due to the “urgent need to make reporting from inside Russia”.
“Russia’s recent adoption of a punitive ‘false wartime news’ law is an alarming move by the government to gag and blindfold an entire population,” said three UN-appointed independent experts. Human Rights Council, the UN’s top human rights body, in a statement. .
“…the law places Russia in a total wartime information blackout and, in doing so, gives an official stamp of approval to disinformation and misinformation,” they continued.
The experts, known as special rapporteurs, are Irene Khan, Clement Voule and Mary Lawlor and are responsible for reporting on violations of freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly and the situation of human rights defenders.
Russian officials have said that false information has been spread by enemies of Russia such as the United States and its Western European allies in an attempt to sow discord among the Russian people. He calls his actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm it, counter what he sees as NATO aggression and capture leaders he calls neo-Nazis.
UN experts have also called for a new international commission of inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate alleged violations of freedom of expression and the media by Russia.
The Council is the only global intergovernmental body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world. Although its decisions are not legally binding, they carry political weight and can authorize investigations into violations.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by William Maclean)