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Russia’s top radio station shut amid crackdown on dissent

March 3, 2022 GMT
Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of Ekho Moskvy speaks to journalists in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 3, 2022. A Russian radio station has been taken off the air after authorities threatened to shut it down over its coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The action against one of Russia's oldest radio stations comes amid growing pressure on Russia's independent media to follow the Kremlin's official line while covering the invasion of Ukraine. Officials also threatened to block Dozhd, Russia's top independent TV channel. (AP Photo)
Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of Ekho Moskvy speaks to journalists in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 3, 2022. A Russian radio station has been taken off the air after authorities threatened to shut it down over its coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The action against one of Russia's oldest radio stations comes amid growing pressure on Russia's independent media to follow the Kremlin's official line while covering the invasion of Ukraine. Officials also threatened to block Dozhd, Russia's top independent TV channel. (AP Photo)
Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of Ekho Moskvy speaks to journalists in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 3, 2022. A Russian radio station has been taken off the air after authorities threatened to shut it down over its coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The action against one of Russia's oldest radio stations comes amid growing pressure on Russia's independent media to follow the Kremlin's official line while covering the invasion of Ukraine. Officials also threatened to block Dozhd, Russia's top independent TV channel. (AP Photo)
Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of Ekho Moskvy speaks to journalists in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 3, 2022. A Russian radio station has been taken off the air after authorities threatened to shut it down over its coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The action against one of Russia's oldest radio stations comes amid growing pressure on Russia's independent media to follow the Kremlin's official line while covering the invasion of Ukraine. Officials also threatened to block Dozhd, Russia's top independent TV channel. (AP Photo)
Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of Ekho Moskvy speaks to journalists in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 3, 2022. A Russian radio station has been taken off the air after authorities threatened to shut it down over its coverage of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The action against one of Russia's oldest radio stations comes amid growing pressure on Russia's independent media to follow the Kremlin's official line while covering the invasion of Ukraine. Officials also threatened to block Dozhd, Russia's top independent TV channel. (AP Photo)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s top independent radio station was closed Thursday and a leading independent TV station has suspended its operations as Russian authorities moved forcefully to stifle criticism of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ekho Moskvy (the Echo of Moscow), has been one of the most influential and respected media outlets in the country ever since it was founded in 1990. With many other independent news outlets shut amid a relentless government crackdown on opposition activists and independent media in recent years, the station was the most visible critical media still standing in Russia.

The station was taken off the air Wednesday over the failure to toe the Kremlin’s official line while covering the invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24.

On Thursday, the station’s board of directors — which is controlled by its majority owner, a media arm of Russia’s state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom — declared Ekho Moskvy closed. Its journalists said they will keep working on social networks and YouTube.

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Dozhd (Rain), a top independent TV station in Russia, announced Thursday it was suspending operations after receiving a threat of closure from the authorities.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday deplored the moves against Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd as “a full assault on media freedom and the truth” by the Kremlin.

Russian officials have demanded that media in Russia cover the invasion of Ukraine in strict accordance with the official line and have quickly pounced on media that described Russia’s attack on Ukraine as an “invasion” or “a war” and carried statements from the Ukrainian side.

The tough action against the few remaining independent media in Russia comes amid a growing antiwar sentiment in the country, despite a fierce crackdown on protests.

Protests against the invasion of Ukraine have cropped up across Russia for four days while over 1.1 million people signed an online petition demanding an end to the war.

Police quickly moved to break down anti-war protests, detaining over 8,000 participants since the invasion began, according to OVD-Info, a rights group tracking political arrests.

In an effort to stifle critical voices, Russian authorities also have restricted access to Facebook and Twitter, which have played an important role in amplifying dissent.

Speaking at a briefing, Psaki said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the crackdown on protests and the latest moves against the independent media. She noted proposals by some Russian lawmakers to make spreading critical information on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

“What they are trying to do is block any information about what they are doing to invade a sovereign country, and they’re taking severe steps to do exactly that,” she said.

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Follow all AP stories on the Russian invasion of Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.