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Putin ally moves to up jail time for insulting the army, protect mercenaries

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Russia’s top lawmaker said on Wednesday he was introducing amendments to a wartime censorship law that would increase the maximum penalty for discrediting the army from five to 15 years in jail and extend the law to cover the Wagner mercenary force.

Moscow introduced sweeping censorship laws shortly after ordering tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine a year ago.

“Discrediting” the army can currently be punished by up to five years in prison, while spreading knowingly false information about it can attract a 15-year jail sentence.

Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, said on Wednesday his amendments would toughen the law and bring in a maximum punishment of 15 years in jail for both offences.

“This initiative will protect everyone who today is risking their lives to ensures the security of the country and our citizens”, Volodin, a close ally of President Putin, wrote on Telegram. “The punishment for violators will be severe.”

His proposals envisage fines of up to five million roubles (about $66,580), correctional or forced labour of up to five years, or imprisonment up to 15 years.

The law would also be extended to offer protection for the first time to the Wagner mercenary force, which is fighting in Ukraine, and to other voluntary military organisations.

Yevgeny Prigozhin. Wagner’s founder, asked parliament in January to ban negative media reports about his men by amending the criminal code, an idea Volodin quickly said he backed.

Russian prosecutors have already opened more than 5,800 cases against people for discrediting the armed forces, the OVD-Info rights group says, while authorities have also used the laws against spreading false information to hand down lengthy jail sentences to long-time Kremlin critics.

Prigozhin, whose fighters have spearheaded Russia’s months-long push to take the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, praised the new amendments.

In a letter to Volodin published on Telegram, he wrote: “These amendments will allow us to the defend the rights of individuals who are defending the country”.

However Prigozhin, who has repeatedly and publicly feuded with Russia’s military top brass, said the law should not apply to people criticising military commanders, something he said was “necessary for the open and responsible fulfilment of their (commanders’) responsibilities.”.

Prigozhin publicly accused senior military commanders of “treason” last month, accusing them of deliberately starving his fighters of munitions out of personal animosity to him. The defence ministry denied there was any munitions shortage and Prigozhin later said he was getting what he needed.

The lower house of parliament will consider Volodin’s amendments on Thursday, he said, with a final vote scheduled for March 14.

Source: reuters

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