Russian lawmakers approve fines, prison terms for spreading false coronavirus information

Russian lawmakers approve fines, prison terms for spreading false coronavirus information
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Russian lawmakers have approved fines of up to $25,000 and sentences of up to five years in prison for spreading misinformation relating to the coronavirus.

The nation’s legislature acted after President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinIn a new cold war with China, America may need to befriend Russia Here's why reporters are not asking the White House about 'Obamagate' Postponed Russian World War II victory parade now set for June MORE called for action against “provocations, stupid gossip and malicious lies” about the outbreak, The Associated Press reported.

Rumors have swirled within Russia for the past month that the government was undercounting the number of cases, prompting the government’s coronavirus task force to establish a “fake news” division. In some cases, law enforcement has targeted news outlets and individual social media users who denied the official data.

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“In crises, those in power try very hard to control the information and push their own agenda. And, of course, it makes sense to suppress alternative points of view,” Valery Solovei, a political analyst who told an opposition radio station he believed the government was lying about the death toll, told the AP.

Solovei also said the Russian death toll since mid-January could be as high as 1,600.

Russia’s media and internet watchdog, Roscomnadzor, reportedly responded by pressuring radio station Echo Moskvy to scrub the interview with Solovei from its website.

One woman is facing a fine as high as $1,200 for a social media post about virus cases in her region, which has not officially reported any cases, the AP reported, while a 26-year-old man was fined $380 for a social media comment on a news report alleging a woman died of the virus in a hospital.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the AP that the penalties were “absolutely justified,” saying the conduct in question “stirs up unwarranted tensions, and in this situation it needs to be punished in accordance with the law.”

Numerous other countries have also cracked down on misinformation about the virus, including India, Germany, Taiwan and Thailand, particularly amid concerns that false rumors will be disseminated on April Fool’s Day.