(New York, NY) – Today Russian lawmakers passed legislation that would make it easier for the government to label as a foreign agent virtually any Russian citizen who receives money from overseas and then publishes information, a move PEN America said was a threat to press freedom and free expression. 

The new legislation broadens the existing foreign agent law passed in 2012 that has already been deployed against non-governmental organizations, charitable groups, and education projects in Russia. 

“This legislation is a direct attack on individuals’ rights to express their opinion freely,” said PEN America’s Eurasia project director, Polina Kovaleva. “The Russian state continues to smother the last vestiges of free speech, and this effort puts a whole new set of constraints on journalists, bloggers, and potentially other individuals who post content online. As room for free speech online tightens, this law reinforces the atmosphere of fear in Russia. It recalls an earlier era of suppression in the Soviet Union, when expressing one’s opinion was dangerous, and free conversations and ideas were confined to kitchens and secret gatherings. We call on Russian lawmakers to reverse this legislation as a threat to free expression throughout Russia.”

Organizations officially listed as foreign agents are obliged to present themselves as foreign agents, label their products on television, radio, and online, and must report to the Ministry of Justice about their activities.

PEN America monitors threats to free expression in Eurasia among artists, writers, and journalists. Read more about the recent release of Russian actor Pavel Ustinov and PEN America’s statement on Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev’s illegal imprisonment.

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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.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892