With the Russian media almost completely under the thumb of the Kremlin, it is up to foreign journalists to document and report what is happening on the ground. The American and other foreign reporters staying in Russia may be taking a risk, but they are providing a crucial service to the world and the Russian people simply by reporting the truth.

Back in 1992, when I first started working as a journalist in Moscow, government officials in newly post-Soviet Russia were delighted to speak with foreign reporters, veteran Moscow correspondent Beth Knobel writes in the Los Angeles Times. Boris Yeltsin was an imperfect Russian president, but he allowed freedom of the press to flourish. That made the 1990s a vibrant time to be an international journalist in Russia, chronicling its transition out of communism.

Today, the situation for foreign reporters is exactly the opposite. Some news organizations, including the New York Times and Bloomberg News, are pulling all their correspondents out of Russia because of its new law cracking down on freedom of speech, which took effect Saturday. The new law criminalizes spreading false information about Russia or contradicting Russia’s official statements on the war in Ukraine. It prohibits journalists from using words like “war” or “invasion” to describe the conflict, which Russia has dubbed a “special military operation.” Anyone violating the law can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

The new law is vague, giving the Russian state great leeway to apply it to both journalists and average citizens using social media. Russian parliamentarians and President Vladimir Putin did not seem to care that it contradicts the explicit guarantee of freedom of speech enshrined in the Russian Constitution. The current situation harks back to Soviet times, when foreign correspondents faced harassment, arrest or expulsion for their work, and regular Russians had to share information surreptitiously.

Despite the danger posed by this awful law, U.S. news outlets have a duty to keep their reporters in Russia — even if they cannot be on the air or put their names on stories. Many news outlets, including CNN, ABC and CBS, have announced that they will stop broadcasting into or from Russia, but have not said they are ordering their non-Russian employees to leave the country.

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