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A Putin ally and top Russian lawmaker is pushing Wednesday to increase jail time for residents who share information and opinions Moscow deems as insulting to its military – and now wants to extend the same protections to the mercenaries of the private Wagner Group.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the lower house of Russian parliament, the State Duma, is proposing amendments to censorship laws that would raise the maximum punishment for “discrediting” Russia’s armed forces from five to 15 years in prison, according to Reuters.
Russians can already be punished by their government with up to 15 years in prison for spreading what Moscow describes is knowingly false information about the military. Around a week ago, a Russian journalist was handed a six-year sentence after a court found her guilty of “spreading false information about the Russian armed forces’ actions,” The Associated Press reported.
Moscow introduced the laws last year in hopes of stifling domestic criticism and dissent over its invasion of Ukraine.
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A damaged Russian tank is seen on a highway to Kyiv, Ukraine, in April 2022. A Russian lawmaker Wednesday says he wants to increase the punishment of those in Russia who are found guilty of “discrediting” the country’s military. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)
“This initiative will protect everyone who today is risking their lives to ensure the security of the country and our citizens”, Volodin wrote on Telegram, according to Reuters. “The punishment for violators will be severe.”
The proposals, which include extending the same protections for the first time to the Wagner Group, call for fines of up to around $70,000, correctional or forced labor of up to five years, and imprisonment of up to 15 years for insulting Russian troops, the news agency adds.
Mourners attend the funeral of Dmitry Menshikov, a mercenary with Russia’s Wagner Group who was killed in Ukraine, at a cemetery in St. Petersburg on Dec. 24, 2022. A lawmaker wants to protect the Wagner Group from criticism. (Reuters/Igor Russak)
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The OVD-Info human rights group reportedly says more than 5,800 people already have been ensnared in the law about discrediting the armed forces.
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Vyacheslav Volodin, center, the lawmaker who proposed the harsher penalties, is seen with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Deputy Chairman of Security Council Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow in February 2020. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
“These amendments will allow us to defend the rights of individuals who are defending the country,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, wrote in a letter to Volodin in support of his amendments, Reuters reports.
The State Duma will vote on the proposed amendments on March 14.
Greg Norman is a reporter at Fox News Digital.