(New York, NY) – PEN America today said a decree by the governor of Puerto Rico criminalizing the spread of false information is a First Amendment violation. Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of U.S. free expression programs, issued the following statement:

“While the threat of COVID-19 may warrant unusual measures from governments in efforts to keep communities safe, Puerto Rico’s new decree is an unfortunate example of going a step too far. Criminalizing the spreading of false information, on social media or in the press, is a clear violation of First Amendment protections. Right now we need unfettered access to reporting, not government efforts that will silence the public and the media by imposing sanctions. It is critical to preserve space for the public to discuss and debate policy responses to the pandemic, and journalists in particular should not have to worry about the risk of government retaliation for their reporting, especially in such a fluid news environment. Even if this measure is intended to target those deliberately spreading false information about the pandemic, it risks creating the conditions for a crackdown on speech. We urge the governor of Puerto Rico to retract this decree and ensure journalists are free to do their vital work in this critical moment.”

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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