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by PEN International category: Charity
Sochi Winter Olympics 2014: Out in the Cold
The Winter Olympic Games will take place Sochi, Russia on 7th – 23rd February, 2014. During the Games, join PEN in protesting the draconian restrictions placed on free expression in Russia since President Vladimir Putin returned to office in May 2012.
During 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 one self freely, and pose a particular threat to our fellow writers, journalists and bloggers:
1. In June 2013, the gay ‘propaganda’ law was passed. This law was ostensibly passed to protect children from pornography and access to inappropriate sexual material, but in practice it (and its precursor) has been used to target journalists and entertainers. The breadth of the legislation means that any activity that can be construed as promoting the non-heterosexual lifestyle, including the holding of LGBT rallies 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 criminalises ‘religious insult’ and provides punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of US$ 16,000. 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 (for which three members of the band received two-year prison sentences). Though they were arrested before the law was introduced, they were convicted in the spirit in which the legislation would later be written.
3. In July 2012, defamation was re-criminalised. 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 practice, criminal defamation laws have often been exploited by public officials around the world to silence criticism and deter investigative reporting. The United Nations special rapporteur for free expression has called for all states to decriminalise defamation. While the current trend in Europe is to move away from the criminalisation of speech offences, Russia is going in the opposite direction.
Join PEN International in calling on Russia for the repeal of these laws.
For more information and to read this in French, Spanish or Russian visit: www.pen-international.org/sochi-winter-olympics-out-in-the-cold/
PEN International is the world's leading association of writers and works to promote literature and defend freedom of expression. Founded in 1921 our global community of writers spans over 100 countries, with 146 PEN Centres worldwide. Our campaigns, events and programmes connect writers and readers, strengthen freedom of expression, defend linguistic rights and promote quality education at the national, regional and international level.