Govorukhin, head of the committee on culture in Russia’s lower house of parliament, made the claim in a November 17 television interview in which he discussed the need for “moral limitations” in the arts in order to push back against “all kinds of filth being poured from movies screens and theater stages.”
The Russian Constitution does, indeed, forbid censorship, but Russia is hardly alone in this. Almost every former Soviet republic has a constitution explicitly banning censorship. In a 2010 report, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted that among the countries of the former Soviet Union, only Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia do not have “constitutional bans on censorship.” That continues to be the case. Even former Soviet republics with highly authoritarian governments -- such as Belarus and Uzbekistan -- have constitutions calling censorship impermissible.
Following Govorukhin’s claim, the Latvia-based, Russian-language news site Meduza also listed several countries that forbid censorship in their respective constitutions including Belgium, German, Iceland, Italy, Brazil, Bulgaria, and Latvia (the two other former Soviet republics in the Baltics -- Estonia and Lithuania -- also have constitutional bans on censorship).
Such bans, of course, have not necessarily prevented many governments from cracking down on media outlets and freedom of expression. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based press freedom watchdog, published its list of the “10 Most Censored Countries” last year. Three of the countries on the list -- Iran, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia -- include constitutional bans on censorship, though Iran’s constitution qualifies its ban with the phrase “except as provided by law.”
Russia itself has come under fire from press-freedom activists for what they call a steady restriction of the right to free expression in the country. It remains near the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index compiled annually by the France-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.