(New York, NY) — PEN America today said a new set of laws introduced in Russia’s legislative chamber would constitute a targeted attack of free speech and free expression in Russia. On November 18, lawmakers introduced legislation that would broaden the number of organizations and individuals required to register as “foreign agents.” That includes any individual or group that receives foreign funds and engages in political activity or collects data on Russia’s military. A separate law would require some foreign journalists to register as “foreign agents,” including reporters found to be circulating or creating content with any assistance from abroad. 

PEN America said today that such designations are often used punitively and put individuals and organizations at risk.

“The proposed laws would infringe on constitutionally guaranteed rights, and yet, they will be almost impossible to challenge. It is clear that part of the goal here is to undermine individuals’ and organizations’ credibility by labeling slapping them with the nefarious-sounding label ‘foreign agents.’ It of course poses particularly dangerous consequences for journalists, whose work could be severely constrained by this bill,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia program director. “While the law’s enforcement may not be systematic, it may instead be dangerously selective, and the consequences will be far-reaching and highly influential. We urge Russian lawmakers and officials to reconsider and reverse this strategy, in recognition that these tactics are in direct opposition to the rights of journalists, writers and all people.”

In accordance with these laws, the media must publicly label and identify foreign agents so that everyone can be aware of their status, and foreign agents themselves must preface all events and activities with a reminder of their registration with the Ministry of Justice. Following registration as a foreign agent, individuals must report to the ministry on a semiannual basis to report on their research, acquisition of information, and foreign supporters. Foreign agents will be banned from participating in elections, campaigns, and other related political activities.

PEN America closely follows the situation with free expression in Russia. In 2019, PEN America condemned then-new amendments to the foreign registration law.