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MOSCOW: The BBC announced Friday that it was halting its journalists’ work in Russia after lawmakers moved to impose harsh jail terms for publishing “fake news” about the army as part of efforts to muffle dissent over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The BBC, which has a large bureau in Moscow and runs a Russian-language news website, reacted after lawmakers backed new legislation imposing jail terms and fines for publishing “knowingly false information” about the military.

“This legislation appears to criminalise the process of independent journalism,” BBC Director-General Tim Davie said in a statement.

He warned that journalists could face “the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs”.

The legal crackdown leaves the broadcasting corporation with “no other option than to temporarily suspend the work of all BBC News journalists and their support staff within the Russian Federation,” Davie said.

The lower house of parliament said in a statement that if fake news stories “led to serious consequences, (the legislation) threatens imprisonment of up to 15 years”.

Amendments were also passed to fine or jail people calling for sanctions against Russia with jail terms.

Ukraine, Russia make progress on evacuation corridors

Two Russian outlets, Nobel Prize-winning newspaper Novaya Gazeta and business news website The Bell, said Friday they will stop reporting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to protect their journalists.

The past year has seen an unprecedented crackdown on independent and critical voices in Russia that has intensified since the invasion.

The chairman of parliament Vyacheslav Volodin railed against foreign social media after Facebook was briefly inaccessible in Russia on Friday.

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