NEW YORK—The reported inclusion of literary publishing platforms on a list of ‘internet operators’ that must make user information available to the Russian government is likely to have an alarming chilling effect on Russian writers, PEN America said in a statement today.

Under the Yarovaya Law, a package of reforms passed in 2016 ostensibly to strengthen counterterrorism provisions, telecommunications and internet companies are required to store communications and metadata, and to share that information—as well as encryption keys—with the government upon request. In recent months, according to a recent article by RosComSvoboda, an organization working against internet censorship in Russia, the government has quietly added a significant number of additional websites to the list of companies that must comply with the law. Among those recently added are stihi.ru and proza.ru, two widely-used, free publishing platforms for authors of poetry and prose; regional publishing houses and online media; and news websites and discussion forums. Some of the sites have wide audiences—stihi.ru has over 800,000 users who publish via the platform. According to the law, after receiving a notification from the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media, Roskomnadzor, the website organizer is obliged to collect, store, and provide information about the actions of users on its resource to authorized state agencies; online resources that fail to fulfill government requests could be shut down, as happened with the popular messaging service Telegram in 2018. Including such sites on the list will place significant technical and economic burdens on the outlets, and will also open up their users to extensive government surveillance.

“Extending this provision of the deeply problematic Yarovaya Law to a range of cultural and news websites, some of which have wide audiences, will essentially shut down important platforms for the exchange of information and ideas, and literary activity online in Russia,” said Polina Kovaleva, PEN America’s Eurasia Project Director. “This appears to be a clear move by the government to expand the breadth of their surveillance activities to as many individual users as possible, and particularly to target outlets where creativity and open dialogue may be flourishing. The potential chilling effect on writers and poets is disturbing, particularly in the context of a broader crackdown on artistic expression in Russia. Many Russian writers have used these platforms to write under pen names, which allows them anonymity; this change may effectively silence their voices. This new development further demonstrates why, for the sake of free expression in Russia, the Yarovaya Law must be repealed.”

PEN America closely follows attacks on artistic and digital freedom in Russia, and has spoken out regarding oppression of prominent figures in the worlds of music and theater. In May 2018, PEN America was among 53 international human rights, media, and internet freedom organizations to strongly condemn the Russian Federation’s attempts to block the internet messaging service Telegram.  

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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. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org