A decree signed today by President Vladimir Putin making deaths of Russian forces “in peacetime” a state secret is yet another attack on freedom of expression in the country, Amnesty International said.
The new decree, which bans all information about losses of Russian troops “during special operations” in peacetime, comes amid longstanding accusations that President Putin has sent military assistance to separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“Not only is this decree a blatant attack on freedom of expression, it also has sinister undertones that will intensify speculation President Putin has something to hide – specifically losses incurred by Russia’s military in Ukraine,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Director.
The Kremlin has consistently denied sending troops and weapons to help separatist forces across the border.
“The move also increases fears for the safety of Russian media workers and civil society activists who have already faced harassment for trying to independently cover the conflict in Ukraine.”
Until today, only losses of Russian troops during war were considered a state secret.
The Russian government has consolidated its control over mainstream media in recent years, with several media outlets and journalists targeted over their coverage of the Ukraine conflict.
In August last year, several journalists were assaulted in separate incidents as they attempted to report on secretive funerals of Russian military servicemen allegedly killed in Ukraine.
In one attack on 29 August Lev Shlosberg, publisher of Pskovskaya Guberniya – the first newspaper to report on the secret funerals – was brutally beaten and hospitalized with head injuries. A subsequent police investigation failed to identify his three assailants.
“This new decree raises some disturbing questions, such as whether journalists and civil society activists reporting on alleged losses in Ukraine in future might be criminally prosecuted for treason,” said John Dalhuisen.“It also means families of soldiers killed during ‘special operations’ will be deprived of the truth about the fate of their loved ones.”