The BBC is suspending the work of all its journalists in Russia after the Kremlin passed a new law meaning people who spread “false” information about the Russian armed forces could be jailed for up to 15 years.
The company said the safety of its staff is “paramount” and it is “not prepared to put them at risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their job”.
He confirmed that his news service in Russian will continue to operate from outside Russia.
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BBC Director General Tim Davie said: “This legislation appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism.
“This leaves us with no choice but to temporarily suspend the work of all BBC News journalists and their support staff within the Russian Federation while we assess the full implications of this unwanted development.
“The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to put them at risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their job. I want to pay tribute to all of them, for their bravery, determination and professionalism.”
Mr Davie added that the BBC remained committed to making “accurate and independent information” available to the world and that its journalists in Ukraine and elsewhere would “continue to report on the invasion of Ukraine”.
The decision came after the new law passed on Friday, which will also issue public calls for sanctions against Russia a criminal offence.
“If the counterfeits lead to serious consequences, a prison sentence of up to 15 years threatens,” the lower house of parliament, the Duma, said.
The new law appears designed to give Russia even stronger powers to suppress information about its invasion of Ukrainewhat the Russians call a special military operation.
Russia’s upper house of parliament also approved the law on Friday, and it could come into effect in the coming days after President Putin signs it.
People who spread so-called false information face up to three years in prison, but if there are “serious consequences” they could face up to 15 years.
Russian media has been ordered to only publish information from government sources and must describe the situation in Ukraine as a “special military operation” – “war” and “invasion” are banned by the media regulator Roskomnadzor.
With civilian casualties mounting, Ukraine killing thousands of Russians and huge international sanctions, the Kremlin is keen to present its own version of events.
Western sources such as the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio Free Europe and others are also being blocked by the regulator for broadcasting “false” information, Russian news agency Interfax said on Friday.
Some independent Russian media have already had to close or suspend their service after opposing the government line, including the Ekho Moskvy radio station and the Dozdh television channel.
The Dozdh editor fled Russia and told Sky News the situation had become “more and more serious” in recent days and that he and his colleagues had been threatened.
And – just two hours after the law was passed – the Znak news site said it was closing due to “a large number of recently emerged restrictions affecting media work in Russia”.
International tech and social media giants are also at the heart of the information battle.
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Both Twitter and Facebook reported having their services restricted and deliberately slowed down for cracking down on Russian state-linked media sources.
Nick Clegg, Chief Policy Officer of Facebook said he refused orders from Russia to stop fact-checking and labeling of content public media companies.
The Reporters Without Borders group said that “the information war is in full swing in Russia” and that President Vladimir Putin needs all national media on “battle ground to justify the invasion of Ukraine”. .
Despite censorship efforts, it is extremely difficult to block the huge flow of information via social media and the internet.
Demonstrations have taken place in many Russian cities, but most are quickly dispersed, with police often taking people away in vans.
This week five children were among the detainees in Moscow after protesting at the Ukrainian embassy.