(New York, NY) — The Russian justice ministry this week designated the independent investigative news outlet Mediazona and its editor-in-chief, Sergei Smirnov, as “foreign agents.” PEN America today said it is yet another instance of the Russian government using the foreign agent designation to crack down on a free press.

“The labelling of Mediazona and its editor-in-chief as foreign agents is yet another direct attack on freedom of expression by the Russian authorities”, said PEN America’s Eurasia director Polina Sadovskaya. “The Russians intensified their  crackdown on independent media in the run-up to this month’s state Duma elections, and this week’s addition of Mediazona to the registry shows that Russian authorities have no intention of stopping this suppression of free speech.  We call on Russian lawmakers to end this targeted persecution of journalists, bloggers, and activists.”

Mediazona was founded in 2013 by Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova to shed light on the illiberal tactics and systematic abuses of the Russian judicial and penal systems. Noting the ongoing nature of Russian authorities’ repression of independent media, Mediazona’s Smirnov warned supporters on Twitter: “I am sure that the foreign agent status is not the worst of it and that there will be further pressure.”.

Since 2012, Russia labeled more than 200 organizations as foreign agents. Twenty of these, including Medizona, were made just this week amid state elections. Organizations officially listed on the register 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 and spending. News outlets previously targeted have seen their sponsorships wane and their ability to operate limited due to the negative implications of the designation.

PEN America monitors threats to free expression in Eurasia among artists, writers, and journalists. Read more about PEN America’s advocacy on Sergei Smirnov and recent crackdown on investigative journalism in Russia.