New Russian press clampdown after Putin story

Russian politicians voted for restrictions on the news media today after a Moscow newspaper reported that President Vladimir Putin had divorced his wife and planned to marry a champion gymnast.

The State Duma voted 339-1 to allow authorities to suspend and close down media outlets for libel and slander following the story, which was denied by both Putin and the former gymnast, the Associated Press news agency reported from Moscow.

Under the new law, slander and libel, defined as “dissemination of deliberately false information damaging individual honour and dignity” become subject to the same sanctions as the promotion of terrorism, extremism and racial hatred.

The Moscowsky Korrespondent newspaper claimed earlier this month that Putin, 55, had divorced his wife, Lyudmila, and planned to marry Alina Kabayeva, 24.

Kabayeva, who won a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Games, is widely regarded as one of Russia’s most beautiful women, is often seen on talk and reality television shows and is now a Duma member from a pro-Kremlin party.

The bill now goes to the upper house, where approval is likely, and then to Putin for signing.

The tabloid Moscowsky Korrespondent was closed down on Wednesday after Moscow authorities banned its distribution and the chief editor resigned, its owner Alexander Lbedev told Echo Mosvky radio.

Critics claim that Putin has presided over a steady rollback of post-Soviet media and political freedoms.

Under Putin, all the major national television networks have come under the control of the Kremlin or its allies.

Russia’s print media have also experienced growing official pressure.

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