Putin signs law prohibiting ‘false information’ about mercenaries in Russia News
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Putin signs law prohibiting ‘false information’ about mercenaries in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin Saturday signed a law forbidding the spread of “false information” about volunteer forces fighting in service of Russia. The law is meant to prevent public condemnation of paramilitary and private military organizations such as the Wagner Group—currently operating in Ukraine. The law passed the Russian State Duma, Russia’s lower house, on Tuesday with 336 members voting in favour, 2 voting against and 112 abstentions.

The law amends Russia’s criminal code by making it a criminal offence to knowingly spread false information regarding “volunteer formations carrying out tasks assigned [to them] by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” Offenders may be sentenced to pay a fine of up to $1.5 million rubles or face a mandatory work term or imprisonment of up to five years.

Other changes in the new legislation include a prohibition on “public action” against the use of volunteer organizations by the Russian armed forces and any public action aimed at “discrediting” these volunteer forces. These bans include interfering with public transport, social infrastructure, banks and energy infrastructure, damaging property or participating in mass violations of public order. Such actions carry a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment. However, public action may also include participating in protests and peaceful demonstrations, as demonstrated by previous action by the Russian police.

The previous version of the criminal code already included prohibitions on the spread of false information regarding the Russian armed forces. The amendment’s language could be an acknowledgement by Russia that the private military forces fighting in Ukraine are acting under the direct orders of the Russian military. Russia has previously denied its ties to and control over the Wagner Group and rejected responsibility for the group’s actions.