Russia passes law banning criticism of voluntary military groups

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The State Duma, ‘s lower house of parliament, has passed an amendment that would extend the law banning the discrediting of the Russian military to include “volunteer” groups fighting in the military operation in .

The amendment is positioned as an effort to protect fighters in the private mercenary company the Wagner Group, which is leading the war for control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Wagner Group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, who asked the parliament to ban negative media reports and online speech about his company in January, welcomed the proposal. His initial request was supported by Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.

The law against discrediting the Russian military, which was passed after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, carries a prison sentence of five years. Prosecutors have already opened over 5,800 cases under the law, according to rights group OVD-Info.

The amendment that was passed by the lower house still needs to be passed by the upper house and signed by President Vladimir Putin before becoming law.

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