NEW YORK—The decision today by a Moscow court to allow Russian authorities to shut down the messaging app Telegram is a far-reaching attack on free expression in a country where the app is an important medium for news and personal communication, said PEN America in a statement today.

Today, a Moscow district court granted a request from the Russian communications and technology watchdog agency, Roskomnadzor, to block Telegram with immediate effect. The hearing lasted 18 minutes and was boycotted by Telegram’s lawyers in protest of the hurried process. Russian security services had demanded Telegram provide them with access to users’ encrypted messages; Telegram refused on the grounds of protecting user privacy. Security services made the demand under a series of laws passed in 2016 with the stated intention of fighting terrorism. The laws, however, grant the government expansive powers to access user data and communications from internet and telecom companies.  Providers will block the app starting from April 16.

“The draconian Yarovaya law shouldn’t have been adopted in the first place. Now, with each and every new decision allegedly legally made based on this law, Russian authorities undermine more and more of the Constitution,” says Polina Kovaleva, PEN America Free Expression Program Manager for Eurasia.

“This retaliatory effort to shut down Telegram demonstrates the Russian authorities’ fundamental disregard for free expression and the right to privacy, and highlights the risks to basic human rights associated with the sweeping anti-terrorism laws passed in Russia in 2016,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America Chief Executive Officer. “Governments do not have a right to demand indiscriminate access to individuals’ private communications, and to punish Telegram for protecting their users’ data also shows a shocking disregard for the extent to which many Russians rely on Telegram to communicate. The Russian authorities should refrain from shutting Telegram down and allow the appeal process to proceed unobstructed.”

Telegram is widely used across Russia and other former Soviet states, and in the Middle East. In March, 2018 it announced that it reached more than 200 million active users. Its popularity has grown in part because of its strong encryption mechanisms. The messaging app was founded by the Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov and his brother Nikolai.  Pavel Durov previously founded the Russian social network VK, but was forced out after the company was taken over the Group. 


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.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: [email protected]