MOSCOW, Russia (AFP) – Russian news agencies claimed Wednesday that Russia’s media regulator has banned access to the Google News service, accusing it of disseminating “false” information regarding Russia’s offensive in Ukraine. According to a statement from Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor reported by the agencies, the decision was made at the request of the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office. “Access to various publications and documents that include incorrect information… concerning the conduct of the special military operation on Ukrainian territory” was supplied by the online news service, according to the statement. Since the beginning of Russia’s engagement in Ukraine on February 24, the Russian government has strengthened its grip over information on the internet, one of the country’s last bastions of free speech. Many Russian and international media outlets, including the BBC, have had their internet services banned, and a Moscow court has labelled the American social media platforms Facebook and Instagram as “extremist.” Twitter access has also been restricted. Roskomnadzor also accused Google and its video provider YouTube of “terrorist” acts last week, paving the way for a future shutdown. At the same time, in early March, the authorities announced two new criminal offences: one for broadcasting “discrediting” material about the Russian army, and another for disseminating “false” information about Russian troops. The latter offence, which has a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail, is of particular worry to the political opposition and independent media, which fear being prosecuted if they report on the Ukraine offensive.

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