NEW YORK—The assault on journalist Grigory Pasko this week further demonstrates the deteriorating climate for free expression in Russia, PEN America said in a statement today.

Pasko, who was jailed on trumped-up charges from 1997-1998 and then again from 2000-2003, is no stranger to Russia’s suffocating disregard for press freedom. Pasko is the director the Community of Investigative Journalists and had traveled on September 26 from Moscow to Barnaul, the administrative center of the Siberian Altai republic, to instruct local journalists in investigative techniques. In a lengthy account given on Facebook, Pasko tells of how, on September 27, he was accosted by two muscular men in dark glasses. One of the men punched Pasko in the head, knocking him to the ground as the other shouted, “Get out of our city! We are going to get you!”

Pasko’s arrival in the city was pre-empted by an incendiary article published in the Barnaul edition of nationalist website Monavista, in which Pasko is labelled a “traitor” and a “foreign agent,” and threatened with retaliation for his work training other journalists. Pasko said that, earlier in his visit, he been followed to and from his hotel, and his opening training session was interrupted by the arrival of police. Officers demanded and recorded the passport details of all those present, claiming to be investigating the presence of “migrants.” It was the first of any such checks experienced by the organization’s staff, though the group has frequently been the victim of harassment and obstruction.

“Physical and verbal threats directed against independent Russian journalists remain at a worrying high level, contributing to a climate of fear and self-censorship,” said Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression At Risk Programs at PEN America. “Russian authorities must thoroughly follow up on Pasko’s police report and ensure that the perpetrators of this and other such attacks on writers and journalists are speedily identified and prosecuted.”

Pasko reported the September 27 attack to local police and was examined by a doctor. He has resumed his training sessions for local journalists.

In January 2016, PEN America released Discourse in Danger: Attacks on Free Expression in Putin’s Russia, a report detailing the myriad constraints on media and other forms of creative expression in Russia.

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