Home Page > News Item > Russia G20, 5-6 September 2013 – A Call to Action

23 August 2013

This year’s G20 Leaders’ Summit will take place in St Petersburg, Russia, on 5-6 September 2013.

Free expression in Russia is under considerable threat and we are asking PEN Centres in G20 countries (and also those in countries that have received special invitations to the Summit in St Petersburg) to raise the issue with their respective representatives who will be attending the event.

Free Expression in Russia:

During the last 18 months, Russian lawmakers have passed three pieces of legislation that severely curtail a writer’s right to express him/herself freely.

• In July 2012, criminal libel law was re-introduced to Russian law. Media outlets now face fines of up to US$ 153,000 if they are judged to have made a libellous statement.
• In June 2013, Article 148 of the Russian Criminal Code was amended, making ‘public acts expressing manifest disrespect for society and carried out with the goal of insulting the feelings of religious believers’ a criminal offence with punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment.
• Also in June 2013, the so-called anti-gay propaganda law was passed, prohibiting the ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships’ and banning any activity that could be construed as promoting a non-heterosexual lifestyle. This new law created a series of administrative penalties in the form of fines, suspensions for legal entities, and deportations for foreign nationals.

Emblematic of Russia’s regressive approach to free expression is the continued imprisonment of PEN cases Nadezhda Tolokonnivova and Mariya Alekhina, two members of the female punk band Pussy Riot. Tolokonnivova, Alekhina and another band member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, were convicted in August 2012 on charges of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’. This followed Pussy Riot’s performance of a ‘punk prayer’ at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow in February 2012. Each woman was punished with a two-year prison sentence (although Samutsevich’s sentence was later suspended).

PEN International has protested the worsening free expression climate in Russia in two pieces of public advocacy:

•On 17 August 2013, PEN International’s President John Ralston Saul addressed an open letter to President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, urging the release of Nadezhda Tolokonnivova and Mariya Alekhina, and urging the repeal of the three afore-mentioned pieces of anti-free expression legislation.

•PEN International also raised its concerns regarding these laws and the Pussy Riot case in our submission to Russia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN in 2013.

G20 PEN Action – What PEN Centres can do

As a PEN Centre in a G20 country (or from one of the countries that have received a special invitation: Spain, Senegal, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan), you can help to focus attention on the perilous state of free expression in Russia and the continued imprisonment of two members of Pussy Riot. You can do this in three ways:

1. Write to your respective presidents and prime ministers, urging them to raise the issue of the continued imprisonment of Pussy Riot and of the new laws curbing free expression at the G20 Summit.
2. Write to newspapers and journalists who will be covering the G20, or who have an interest in Russia, asking them to include the issue of free expression in Russia and the continued imprisonment of Pussy Riot in their coverage.
3. Write and publish articles yourselves.

Please keep PEN International informed of any action your centre takes with regard to the G20 Summit in Russia. Please let us know of any responses you receive.

Thank you in advance for your action on this very important issue.

For further details contact Cathal Sheerin at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: PEN International, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER UK Tel: + 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax: + 44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: cathal.sheerin@pen-international.org