Russian lawmakers on Tuesday backed legislation allowing prosecutors to shut down foreign media outlets without a court order, in the latest move against the press during Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine.
The lower house State Duma adopted in first reading amendments allowing authorities “to quickly respond and give a mirror response to unfriendly actions against our media abroad.”
Russian state-run media including television network RT and news agency Sputnik have been banned in several Western countries since Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.
The new legislation would allow the prosecutor general to unilaterally shut down foreign media operating in Russia if foreign governments take “hostile” steps against Russian media abroad.
Currently a court order is required.
Outlets could also be shut if they spread information discrediting the Russian army or related to “the introduction by foreign states of political and economic sanctions against Russia.”
Foreign correspondents could be stripped of their accreditations for “unfriendly actions” or because of restrictions imposed on Russian media in their country.
Russia after the start of the conflict introduced prison terms of up to 15 years for spreading information about its military deemed false by the government.
A number of foreign media outlets withdrew from Russia after the introduction of the law.
The Committee to Protect Journalists last week urged the Russian government to drop the new legislation, saying it would “facilitate the arbitrary shutdown of media outlets and increase the number of journalists prosecuted for sharing information.”
Last week Russia said it was closing the Moscow offices of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in retaliation for Ottawa’s banning of RT.
Media in Russia have been banned from calling Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine a “war” or an “invasion” and should instead use the term “special military operation.”
Most of the country’s leading independent media outlets, including prominent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, have been shut down or suspended operations in recent weeks.