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Dmitry Muratov

Reporters swarm Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov on October 8, 2021 after he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa. (Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images)

Free Press Advocates Demand End to Russian Censorship as Last Independent Paper Closes

"Now more than ever, it is critical that Russian news outlets be allowed to provide unbiased coverage."

Brett Wilkins

Press freedom advocates on Monday called on the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin to end media censorship after what's being described as the country's last independent newspaper said it was shutting down for the duration of the invasion of Ukraine.

"Russia's draconian censorship tactics must stop."

Novaya Gazeta—which is edited by 2021 Nobel peace co-laureate Dmitry Muratov—announced Monday that it would "suspend publication... until the end of the special operation in Ukraine," a reference to the Kremlin-approved description of Russia's invasion of its southwestern neighbor.

The paper said that the move follows a second warning from Roskomnadzor, the government media regulator. A third warning could result in government-mandated closure. Russian state media cited Roskomnadzor's allegation that Novaya Gazeta published material from a Kremlin-designated "foreign agent" without disclosing the classification as required by law.

Gulnoza Said, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement that "in their attempt to quash all independent coverage of the war in Ukraine, Russian authorities have closed down or otherwise silenced independent media outlets, and have forced journalists to flee from prosecution."

 According to the independent Moscow Times—which is published in Amsterdam—at least 150 journalists have left Russia amid the Kremlin's wartime crackdown on the free press.

"Novaya Gazeta has been one of the last bastions of Russia's free press," Said added. "Russia's draconian censorship tactics must stop. Now more than ever, it is critical that Russian news outlets be allowed to provide unbiased coverage. Novaya Gazeta must be allowed to operate freely."

According to The Washington Post:

Since the invasion, Russian authorities have blocked dozens of Russian independent media outlets, including Dozhd television, whose journalists left Russia, and Echo of Moscow radio, disbanded by its board, which is controlled by state-owned gas company Gazprom...

Novaya Gazeta's continued reporting on the war until now, including dispatches from Ukraine about civilian casualties, carefully skirted the legal red line. But the coverage still apparently proved too much for Russian authorities, amid a state television propaganda blitz designed to unite the nation behind the war and to convince Russians that the war is a limited, just, and necessary operation to destroy "Nazis" and protect Russia.

Novaya Gazeta earned a reputation among Russian intellectuals, liberals, and opposition supporters for its hard-hitting reporting, which often drew the ire of authorities. Six of the paper's journalists have been murdered this century.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a former Novaya Gazeta editor, called the paper's temporary closure "a huge loss for the giant internet audience and a catastrophe for those fans of the newspaper who read it on paper."

"It is the disappearance of the last independent publication that had not yet been blocked," he told the Post.

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