Russia Makes Calling Ukraine War an 'Invasion' a Criminal Offense

The Russian parliament has passed a law that criminalizes the distribution of "fake news" about the Russian military, with those convicted facing up to 15 years in prison.

The legislation unanimously passed by the parliament's lower house, or Duma, comes amid a crackdown on independent media outlets in Russia following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the legislation could enter into force as early as Saturday and would prohibit information that "discredits the use of the Russian Armed Forces," agencies reported.

The bill will be sent to the upper house before going to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into law.

Domestic media in Russia are under a tight leash as to how they report the war in Ukraine with words like "invasion" or "assault" prohibited.

Russian media outlets have to describe the war with neighboring Ukraine as a "special operation."

Russia's media watchdog Roskomnadzor is also limiting access to foreign news websites such as the BBC, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, and the Russian-language website of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday that the Kremlin "is engaged in a full assault on media freedom and the truth," and victims of that include outlets that are critical of the Kremlin.

Znak.com said it had ceased operating its website "due to a large number of restrictions" that have been imposed in Russia.

Independent website Meduza said that the Russian authorities had blocked its website and called for Apple on Friday to approve an update to its app which circumvents Russia's censorship.

At the behest of the Russian prosecutor-general's office, Roskomnadzor blocked the two largest remaining independent broadcasters in the country, radio station Echo of Moscow and Dozhd television.

The prosecutor-general's office said Echo of Moscow disseminated "false information about the Russian military personnel's special operation."

Following the move, the radio station's board of directors voted on Thursday to close the radio station.

Dozhd TV, which Russian authorities in 2021 labeled "a foreign agent" and has used the word "invasion" to describe the Ukrainian conflict, announced during a live broadcast on Thursday it would suspend its operations.

Staff ended their final broadcast by walking out of the studio in a silent protest with the last words, "no war."

A video played out Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," in a nod to what was broadcast on television after the failed coup of 1991 that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Station editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzaydko told the Committee to Protect Journalists that Russian legislators had "put us in such a situation that it is impossible to continue working as a journalist."

"I can conclude from the situation in recent weeks—both in general and in regard to journalists—that things will develop according to the worst imaginable scenario, even previously unimagined scenarios."

Russian shelling Kharkiv
A building entrance after the shelling by Russian forces of Constitution Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 2, 2022. Russia's parliament passed on March 4, 2022 a law restricting how domestic news outlets can report the war in Ukraine. SERGEY BOBOK/Getty

Update 03/04/22, 5:50 a.m. ET: This article was updated with additional information.