(NEW YORK)–PEN America today condemned ongoing efforts by the Russian Federation to stifle free expression by muzzling independent media outlets and civil society in Russia. PEN America called on the Russian Federation to take immediate measures to advance the rights of journalists and human rights advocates to exercise free expression , including repealing laws that criminalize and restrict free speech.

“The Russian Federation is using every tactic in the book to silence criticism and open debate. Laws that define organizations as ‘undesirable,’ that limit their options to receive funding, and that ban independent media are all part of this disturbing trend. The only thing that is truly undesirable is this unrelenting attack on free expression and human rights,” said Polina Sadovskaya, director of Eurasia programs at PEN America. “We are particularly concerned about the impact of this repression on media freedom. These efforts not only make the work of independent media extremely hard if not impossible, but limit the ability of millions of readers to receive reliable information, including about Russia’s war in Ukraine. We welcome the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Russia by the UN Human Rights Council in October 2022 and urge him to investigate these attacks on free expression and media freedom.”

In a statement this morning, the Sakharov Center’s staff said that Moscow’s Property Department had used amendments to the “foreign agents” law to suspend its leases two days earlier, forcing it to close its doors. The center is a museum and cultural organization defending the legacy of human rights work in Russia and providing a space for open discourse in the face of an increasingly restrictive political climate.

The Russian Federation has explicitly targeted independent media from at least 2015, introducing various laws intended to harass media outlets. A new censorship law, introduced after the invasion of Ukraine, further limited media freedom by criminalizing the work of many independent Russian journalists and media outlets. The bill allows the Prosecutor General’s office to close media outlets that “disrespect” the government, and holds Russian journalists responsible for reproducing information from other media. With the designation by the Prosecutor General that it is an “undesirable organization,” Meduza, an independent news website, is the latest casualty of this campaign to suppress media freedom in the Russian Federation. The campaign is not limited to Russian media: in April 2022, it arbitrarily blocked the websites of foreign media outlets including BBC World, CNN, and Deutsche Welle.

In addition to its attacks on media freedom, the Russian Federation also silenced, threatened and shut down key human rights organizations, including for exercising their free expression rights. The Moscow Helsinki Group is one Russia’s oldest human rights group and was established in 1976 by a group of Soviet dissidents to advocate against repression in the former USSR. Over the years, it has faced intense opposition and various efforts to shut it down, but it survived, often against the odds, speaking out against new waves of repression and helping to build a national human rights movement. A Moscow court granted the Russian Justice Ministry request to terminate the organization’s activities on Wednesday.

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. Learn more at pen.org.

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