The BBC is temporarily suspending the work of all its journalists inside Russia amid draconian new free speech laws backed by the Russian parliament, the broadcasterâ€™s director said Friday.
â€œThe safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their job,â€ said Tim Davie in a statement, adding that while the BBC assesses the effects of the new laws he has been left with â€œno choiceâ€ but to halt its operations.
The move came after lawmakers in the Duma, the lower house of Russiaâ€™s parliament, voted unanimously Friday to back a law punishing those spreading information countering state narratives around Vladimir Putinâ€™s war in Ukraine. Disseminating â€œfake newsâ€ about the Russian military and its â€œspecial military operationâ€ in Ukraine could result in up to 15 years in prison, if passed.
It also follows the BBCâ€™s decision to stop licensing its TV content Tuesday in condemnation of the invasion.
BBC News Director Jonathan Munro confirmed the move would not mean pulling journalists out of Moscow, but rather stop their output temporarily. â€œThey remain valued members of our teams and we hope to get them back on our output as soon as possible,â€ he said.
The Russian government alsoÂ blocked accessÂ Friday to a number of foreign media outlets including the BBC, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and Radio Free Europe. Roskomnadzor, Russiaâ€™s communications regulator, said it was acting because of these outletsâ€™ â€œpurposeful dissemination on a systematic basis of false informationâ€ regarding the conflict in Ukraine.