A Russian law giving Moscow stronger powers to crack down on independent journalism is placing Russia under a "total information blackout" on the war in Ukraine, UN independent experts said on Friday.
Moscow, whose forces invaded Ukraine on 24 Feb, last week blocked Facebook and other websites and passed a law that imposed a prison term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally "fake" news about the military.
The move prompted the BBC, Bloomberg and other foreign media to suspend reporting in the country, although the BBC said it was resuming English-language reporting from Russia on 8 March because of the "urgent need to report from inside Russia".
"Russia's recent adoption of a punitive 'fake war news' law is an alarming move by the government to gag and blindfold an entire population," three independent UN experts appointed by the top UN rights body, the Human Rights Council, said in a statement.
"...the law places Russia under a total information blackout on the war and in so doing gives an official seal of approval to disinformation and misinformation," they continued.
The experts, known as Special Rapporteurs, are Irene Khan, Clement Voule and Mary Lawlor and are tasked with reporting on violations of the freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly and on the situation of human rights defenders.
Russian officials have said that false information has been spread by Russia's enemies such as the United States and its Western European allies in an attempt to sow discord among the Russian people. It calls its actions in Ukraine a "special operation" to disarm it, counter what it views as NATO aggression and capture leaders it calls neo-Nazis.
The UN experts also called on a newly-established international commission of inquiry being set up by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate alleged violations of freedom of expression and the media by Russia.
The council is the only intergovernmental global body to promote and protect human rights worldwide. While its decisions are not legally binding, they carry political weight and can authorise probes into violations.