(NEW YORK)— In response to the published account by Russian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko that she was poisoned in Germany, after fleeing Russia for her safety, PEN America issued the following statement:

“The apparent poisoning of journalist Elena Kostyuchenko is a threat against anyone writing and speaking truthfully—from anywhere—about the Russian government,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia and advocacy director. “Kostyuchenko’s writing about the war holds the Russian government accountable for its abuses and rejects the blind faith the authorities prescribe and demand. PEN America, in supporting the rights of independent Russian journalists like Kostyuchenko, is deeply concerned about transnational attacks and threats of violence against journalists and writers. PEN America calls on all democratic countries, especially those in which independent Russian journalists reside, to protect them from these attacks and to challenge authoritarianism.”

While Kostyuchenko was reporting on Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine for Novaya Gazeta, her colleagues urged her to leave after receiving tips that troops controlled by Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov were under orders to kill her. Kostyuchenko initially sought to return to Russia but instead moved to Germany for her safety in the fall of 2022. 

In Germany, Kostyuchenko soon experienced various symptoms, and after months of inconclusive tests she was referred to the police to file a criminal complaint and request toxicology tests for possible poisoning. The German police launched an investigation but closed it in February 2023, claiming a lack of conclusive forensic evidence despite tests that showed the presence of a toxic agent in her blood. In July 2023, the German prosecutor’s office reopened the case pending further testing. The Insider, an investigative news outlet, consulted a range of experts who all concluded that Kostyuchenko’s symptoms could only be explained by exogenous poisoning.

On August 15, Kostyuchenko wrote publicly for the first time about her apparent poisoning in 2022. According to a recently published investigation by The Insider, Kostyuchenko is one of multiple civil society members supporting journalism and human rights in Russia who have been apparently poisoned. The Insider investigation details the apparent poisonings of journalist Irina Babloyan in Tbilisi, Georgia and human rights advocate Natalia Arno in Prague.

Kostyuchenko worked for Novaya Gazeta for 17 years and, after its closing, for Meduza. She is the author of a book of essays on how Russia came to where it is in the global landscape: militarized, controlled, isolated. In 2018, Kostyuchenko took part in PEN America’s Writers in Dialogue program, a series of cultural exchange visits between writers in the United States and Russia, and participated in PEN America’s annual World Voices Festival in New York as a panelist. 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057