(New York, NY) — Russian authorities are engaged in a disgraceful pressure attack on the free press, PEN America said today, detaining over the weekend some 80 journalists amid ongoing protests in the country. Among the reporters arrested, the editor in chief of independent news outlet Mediazona Sergey Smirnov, Sergey Parkhomenko of Echo of Moscow, Mikhail Zelensky of Cold, Elena Kostyuchenko of Novaya Gazeta, Danil Turovsky of vDud, Anton Feinberg of RBC, Anton Osherov of moloko plus, Valeriya Savinova of MBH Media, and Iván Kleimenov, among others. 

These detentions come amid this weekend’s broad crackdown on free assembly and free expression in Russia, which has seen more than 5,000 people detained across the country during demonstrations following the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Mediazona‘s Smirnov was detained while out walking with his young son Saturday and released later that evening; he is facing charges of allegedly “inciting unpermitted demonstrations via his social media accounts.”

“The arrest and detention of Smirnov and dozens of other journalists is an attempt to intimidate and silence Russia’s independent media during a moment of national upheaval,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia program director. “The fervor of these protests has clearly alarmed Russian authorities, and perhaps rightly so; the number of people taking to the streets, many who have never done so before, demonstrates that resistance to oppression is still alive and well in Russia. As the government attempts to silence Navalny and all those who call for change, authorities only succeed in reinforcing the power of those dissenting voices and the fragility of the state. Further, in attempting to intimidate and silence the press, Putin’s government exposes its own fear of those who report the truth. These absurd charges against Smirnov must be dropped immediately, and the Russian authorities must cease these crackdowns and demonstrate respect for freedom of the press and the public’s right to freedom of expression and assembly.”

Smirnov is due in court this Wednesday. A survey taken during protests in Moscow suggested some 42 percent of respondents were joining protests for the first time.