Ukraine war news from March 17: Western officials cautious about peace talks, Zelensky warns Europe faces ‘new wall’

Russian investigators on Wednesday launched a criminal case against a blogger for spreading what they called “knowingly false information” about the war in Ukraine, in the first use of a new law that carries a possible sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

The investigative committee said the case was opened against Veronika Belotserkovskaya over several entries published on her Instagram page.

These “contained knowingly false information about the use of the [Russian armed forces] to destroy cities and the civilian population in Ukraine, including children, during a special military operation on the territory of that state”.

It marks the first use of a new law introduced on March 4, a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, making the dissemination of false information about the actions of the Russian military a criminal offence.

“So?! First one down? I’ve been officially declared a decent person!” a message posted on Belotserkovskaya’s Instagram page, where she has more than 890,000 followers, said, together with the news of the case. She appears to be currently based outside Russia.

Other cases are also under investigation, the committee said. It shared a video of members of the security service, some armed and in camouflage, visiting the home of a young man in Tomsk and a woman in nearby Seversk.

At least 180 administrative, rather than criminal, cases have also been opened under another separate censorship law that introduces criminal liability for public actions “aimed at discrediting” the Russian armed forces.

Most often, cases are launched against people for staging one-person pickets, for the labels on their clothing and for posts on social media, according to Network Freedoms, a project of the Agora human rights NGO.

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