In the middle of the war, an independent Russian radio is silent | Russo-Ukrainian War

Names marked with an asterisk* have been changed to protect identities.

On Tuesday evening, one of Russia’s best-known radio stations went silent.

Listeners tuned to Echo of Moscow, one of the few independent news outlets, free from government control, remaining in the country, suddenly heard nothing but the hiss of static.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, authorities have launched a crackdown on independent media and protesters who have come out in their thousands to denounce the war, which the Kremlin will call ” special operation. ”.

A statement from Russia’s internet censorship committee, Roskomnadzor, warned that labeling the military campaign as an “invasion”, “attack” or “declaration of war” would lead to the offending website being blocked.

Authorities accused independent media, such as Echo of Moscow, TV Rain (Dozhd) and Novaya Gazeta of spreading misinformation about the conflict, threatening to fine them up to five million rubles ($60,000 ).

Dmitry Muratov, Nobel Prize-winning editor of Novaya Gazeta, said he would not accept official information about Ukraine and would rely on his own correspondents and newsroom to verify facts .

Over the weekend, Rain’s editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzyadko and his wife, TV presenter Yekaterina Kotrikadze, were bombarded with prank calls and threats against their family members after their stories were published online. personal telephone numbers.

Then, on Monday evening, the attorney general’s office demanded that Roskomnadzor restrict access to Rain and Echo of Moscow, accusing them of “calls for extremist activity, violence”, as well as “deliberately false information regarding the actions of Russian military personnel in the framework of a special operation to protect the DPR and the LPR [Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics].”

While Echo of Moscow has been taken off the air completely, Rain’s live YouTube stream remains online.

Editors of the Echo of Moscow website said they would challenge the decision in court on grounds of political censorship, which is prohibited by the Russian constitution.

In a televised address to his viewers, Dzyadko insisted his station abides by the law and would continue broadcasting for as long as possible, while challenging the decision in court.

Both stations’ websites are still accessible through a VPN.

“Putin lost the war with Ukraine, Putin lost the war with the whole world,” Lev Schlossberg of Russia’s opposition Yabloko party said in a statement shared with Al Jazeera.

“Putin has lost everything. The victims and the destruction will never be forgiven. The truth is unbearable to him. He is furious and very dangerous. Therefore, the last independent media are being destroyed.

“Putin’s Russia is entering the terminal phase, when everything that lives in our country, everything that resists Putin, will be destroyed.

“As long as you can write about it, you can talk about it, you can show it, it can and should be done… Freedom of speech continues to resonate, albeit with a noose around its neck. We will be judged on what we did at the time of the disaster.

Meanwhile, Russian authorities have taken a tough stance against what they see as misinformation about the conflict in Ukraine.

On Monday, lawmakers proposed a new bill sentencing those who share what they call “false” and misinformation with up to 15 years in prison.

This includes data on supposed victims.

Official figures of those killed or captured have yet to be released, although local politicians have admitted their constituents have suffered casualties.

Ukraine said more than 350 people died in less than a week of war, including children, but Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the toll.

Commenting on the crackdown, the head of Russia’s Human Rights Council, Valery Fadeyev, said that while he didn’t look at Rain, “as for Echo of Moscow, it’s true that there were different points of view expressed on the website, but with a predominance of opponents of the special operation in Ukraine.

“These included pacifist appeals from the Russian professional intelligentsia.”

Although he is the chairman of the Russian human rights body, Fadeyev is a member of Putin’s United Russia party and has not been sympathetic to the mistreatment of protesters in the past.

Social media sites

The information war has also spread to social networks.

Roskomnadzor announced on Friday that it was restricting access to Facebook after the company blocked accounts linked to Russian media.

Twitter was blocked soon after, with Roskomnadzor saying it was taking steps to limit the “spread of unreliable information of public importance about a special military operation in Ukraine”.

Meanwhile, Western nations have clamped down on the Kremlin-aligned television channel, Russia Today, or RT, taking it off the air. YouTube also blocked RT’s livestream.

Back in Russia, this means that there is effectively a blackout of the most popular online platforms, although it is still possible to access them using a VPN.

It should be noted that anti-war protests, which have been ongoing since Thursday, have also been staged on social media.

Since the invasion began on Thursday morning, nearly 7,000 people have been arrested in anti-war actions and protests, according to OVD-Info, an independent human rights media project that monitors political persecution.

These include Daniel* who was detained with his friend Natasha* in a major Russian city, which Al Jazeera will not name.

“I was in the cells for 16 hours,” he told Al Jazeera by phone.

“It is now a common experience for many, and there will be more and more such experiences. There were seven of us who were arrested for breaking COVID restrictions, so to speak, and put together in a cell with two concrete ledges that passed for beds.We were given a mattress, a blanket and a pillow with a pillowcase covered in yellow stains.

“Together with us was placed, shall we say, a gentleman of ill fortune, who cried ‘trash can’ [derogatory slang for police in Russia] for taking off his shoelaces. He was drunk and threw his unlaced boots out the door, fell asleep and snored loudly, then woke up and said if he was [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, he would have bombed everything in hell.

Daniel was in court the next day, where he saw Natasha, who had been released overnight. The moment he returned home, he learned that Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine was being bombarded by Russian missiles and several people had been killed.

“I will keep coming out,” Daniel said, words that would likely please imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

On Wednesday, his team called on soldiers to disobey orders and the public to continue to attend peace rallies, post on social media and participate in civil disobedience, promising to pay fines to anyone who ends up be detained.

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