The Winter Olympic Games will take place in Sochi, Russia on 7th – 23rd February, 2014.
During the Games, PEN will be protesting the draconian restrictions placed on free expression in Russia since President Vladimir Putin returned to office in May 2012.
In the last 18 months, Russian lawmakers have signed a number of laws curtailing free speech and dissent. Three laws specifically place a choke hold on the right to express oneself freely, and pose a particular threat to our fellow writers, journalists and bloggers:
1. In June 2013, the now-infamous gay ‘propaganda’ law was passed. This law prohibits the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors,” meaning that any activity that can be construed as promoting the non-heterosexual lifestyle, including the holding of LGBT rallies, or the “promotion of denial of traditional family values among minors,” is now banned. Russian citizens violating this law face being fined; foreigners face deportation. Since the introduction of this law, LGBT groups have reported an increase in attacks on gay people and Russia’s media watchdog has already targeted one newspaper, Molodoi Dalnevostochnik, for ‘promoting’ homosexuality in its coverage of the firing of a gay school teacher.
2. The ‘blasphemy’ law was also passed in June 2013. This law criminalizes ‘religious insult’ and provides punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of 500,000 RUB. The law is widely seen as a heavy-handed attempt to deter stunts similar to the one carried out by the feminist punk group Pussy Riot, who performed their ‘punk prayer’ inside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February 2012.
3. Defamation was re-criminalised in July 2012. Having previously been de-criminalised in 2011 under former President Dmitry Medvedev, it was made a crime once again when Putin returned to the presidency. This law provides cripplingly harsh fines of up to US$153,000 for violations and threatens to push small media outlets into self-censorship for fear of risking financial ruin.
In December 2013, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Russian constitution, the State Duma granted an amnesty to PEN cases and jailed members of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alekhina. Although welcome, this only reduced their harsh two-year prison sentences by a number of weeks, and it should not distract us from the fact that the threat to the right to express oneself freely has greatly increased since Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were convicted of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ in August 2012.
During the Winter Games at Sochi, PEN will be calling for the repeal of the troika of laws that restrict free expression in Russia: the gay ‘propaganda’ law, the blasphemy law and criminal defamation.
We are calling on all PEN centres to join our protest.
How PEN Centres can take action:
1. Identify journalists or writers in your centre that will tweet, blog or write an article protesting Russia’s restrictions on free expression;
2. Send a copy of PEN’s Resolution on the Russian Federation (passed at the 79th Congress in Iceland in September 2013), and the campaign image, to the Russian ambassador to your country (if you have not already done so). In your covering letter, acknowledge the amnesty given to Pussy Riot but reiterate PEN’s concerns over the troika of anti-free expression laws;
3. Write to President Vladimir Putin calling for the repeal of the troika of laws restricting free expression in Russia.
4. Contact your national journalists or commentators who will be reporting on events at Sochi and ask them to raise PEN’s free expression concerns;
5. Use PEN International’s Out in the Cold artwork creatively, by printing posters, t-shirts, placards for use in your campaigning – take photos/make videos of your actions incorporating it;
6. Tweet PEN’s protest! Suggested tweet: #Russia! Respect the right to write! Repeal laws restricting free expression! http://bit.ly/1dlnEfw #Outinthecold #sochi2014 @PutinRF_Eng
Note on tweeting: Please use the hashtags #Outinthecold and #sochi2014 and copy in President Putin where you can @PutinRF_Eng
President Vladimir Putin,
23, Ilyinka Street
Twitter address: @PutinRF_Eng (don’t forget to copy in PEN International @pen_int)
You can find the Russian embassy in your country here.
***Tell us what your centre will be doing to protest Russia’s attacks on free expression***
PEN’s Winter Olympics campaign, Out in the Cold, will be a continuation of our Russian work during 2013:
1. In December 2013, PEN International’s Cathal Sheerin published an article on the amnesty granted to Pussy Riot and other prisoners by the Duma that month.
2. In November 2013 we campaigned on behalf of Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who had been moved to an unknown location within the prison system. We called on the authorities to immediately release details of her whereabouts. Our social media campaign reached a very wide audience. Her whereabouts were revealed on 12 November.
3. Russian PEN issued a statement calling for an amnesty for the ‘Bolotnaya’ protesters, arrested for their involvement in an authorised demonstration (that later turned violent) against Putin’s inauguration as president for a third term in May 2012. Some of those detained were charged, convicted and handed prison sentences.
4. In September 2013, at the 79th PEN World Congress in Reykjavik, PEN called for the release of the imprisoned Pussy Riot members and the repeal of the troika of anti-free expression laws in our Resolution on the Russian Federation; we also raised their case directly with the Russian ambassador to Iceland.
5. In early September 2013, PEN launched an action focusing on the G20 Summit in Russia, calling for the release of Pussy Riot and the repeal of the anti-free expression laws.
6. PEN International’s Cathal Sheerin interviewed four Russian writers about free expression in Russia. You can read this article here.
7. In August 2013, on the anniversary of the Pussy Riot convictions, the president of PEN International, John Ralston Saul, sent a letter to Vladimir Putin, calling for the release of Pussy Riot and the repeal of the troika of laws.
8. In Spring 2013, Russia’s Universal Periodic Review took place at the UN. PEN’s submission on Russia can be read here.
To download the campaign papers click here
To download the campaign image Sochi Olympics 2014, click here
To download the alternative campaign image, Out in the Cold, click here.
Special thanks: PEN International would like to thank Cat Lucas of English PEN and Drew Campbell of Scottish PEN for advice and inspiration. We’d also like to extend a special thank you to the artist Maxine Young, who created the artwork especially for the campaign.
Note on the artwork: The image for Out in the Cold is a re-working of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich’s painting ‘Three Heads’.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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PEN International launches Out in the Cold Campaign ahead of Sochi Winter Olympics