Lawmakers in Russia’s lower house of parliament have approved a bill that will allow authorities to confiscate the assets of those convicted of spreading “deliberately false information” about the military.
The State Duma passed the measure on Wednesday and the bill is expected to be approved by the upper house before being signed by President Vladimir Putin.
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Once it becomes a law, the legislation will enable the government to seize money, valuables and other assets of those criticising the war in Ukraine.
The new law would apply to those convicted of publicly inciting “extremist activities,” calling for actions that would hurt the security of the state or “discrediting” the armed forces.
Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said the bill targets “scoundrels and traitors, those who today spit on the backs of our soldiers, who have betrayed their homeland, who transfer money to the armed forces of a country that is at war with us”.
“Discrediting” the armed forces is a criminal offence under an existing law that was adopted as part of a sweeping government crackdown on dissent after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
It covers offences such as “justifying terrorism” and spreading “fake news” about the military, and has been used extensively to silence Putin’s critics.
Thousands of activists, bloggers and other Russians have received long jail terms, or been detained or fined for speaking out against the war amid an escalating crackdown on free speech and opposition to Putin.
Popular writer Dmitry Glukhovsky was handed an eight-year jail term in absentia after a Moscow court found him guilty in August of deliberately spreading false information about Russia’s armed forces.
Grigory Chkhartishvili, among the country’s bestselling novelists and known under the pen name Boris Akunin, was charged under the law and added to the Russian register of “extremists and terrorists” in December.
In November, a court in St Petersburg jailed Sasha Skochilenko, an artist and musician, for seven years for swapping supermarket price tags with antiwar messages.
The month before, Russian blogger Aleksandr Nozdrinov received an 8.5-year term for posting photos of destroyed buildings in Kyiv, along with a caption implying that Russian troops were responsible.
Despite the crackdown on dissent, the Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that Russian society is united in backing the war.