(New York) – On Tuesday, the public safety director of Newark, New Jersey warned that people who spread disinformation about the coronavirus could be criminally prosecuted. PEN America’s Nora Benavidez, director of U.S. free expression programs, issued the following statement:

“Advising people to take care in sharing reliable and fact-based information about coronavirus makes good sense. Threatening criminal prosecution for spreading misinformation in a time of great confusion, on the other hand, is both wrongheaded and likely unconstitutional. Local leaders must prioritize protecting public health and providing credible information, but they can do that without threatening to tread on the public’s rights.”

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