Russia: PEN’s open letter to Putin

Over 200 writers from across the globe have joined PEN International in calling for the repeal of punitive laws that severely restrict freedom of expression in Russia

In an open letter to the Russian authorities, Russian writers and artists, Nobel Laureates and leading figures from around the world urge Russia to fully respect freedom of expression and create an environment in which all citizens are free to express their views.

The letter, written in support of PEN’s Out in the Cold campaign, has been signed by global cultural and literary figures including Edward Albee, Jon Lee Anderson , John Ashbery, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Gioconda Belli, Ariel Dorfman, Carol Ann Duffy, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman, Jostein Gaarder, Günter Grass, Elfriede Jelinek , Ma Jian, Ian McEwan, Andrei Nekrasov, Abdizhamil Karimuly Nurpeisov, Emile Martel, Rohinton Mistry, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, Elif Şafak, Alexey Simonov, Ali Smith, Wole Soyinka, Peter Stamm and Lyudmila Ulitskaya.

‘Like many other citizens, I am concerned about the restrictions to freedom of speech, tightening legislations and the arbitrary bureaucracy in all aspects of life. I am concerned about the attempt by the authorities to impose cultural ideology that copies many clichés of the Soviet era. I am worried about the dependency of the judicial system on the authorities’ – said Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Russian novelist and short-story writer.

The letter calls on Russia’s leaders to respect freedom of opinion, expression and belief. ‘A healthy democracy must hear the independent voices of all its citizens; the global community needs to hear, and be enriched by, the diversity of Russian opinion,’ the group writes. ‘We therefore urge the Russian authorities to repeal these laws that strangle free speech’

Russia has been greatly strengthened over the last two decades by the reintroduction of free expression – strengthened politically and economically and culturally. There is nothing to be gained by going backwards. Everything to be gained by going further’ – said John Ralston Saul, PEN International president.

Over the last 18 months, Russian lawmakers have signed a number of laws curtailing free speech and dissent; the ‘blasphemy’ law, the gay ‘propaganda’ law which restricts the ‘promotion of a gay lifestyle to minors’ and the recent re-criminalisation of the defamation law are all part of a regressive crackdown on freedom of expression in the country. PEN’s Out in the Cold campaign asks its members and supporters around the world to take action, calling for the repeal of these anti-free expression laws and urging the authorities of the Russian Federation to fully respect the fundamental right to free expression.

Add your voice to PEN’s campaign for greater freedom of expression by taking one or more of our suggested actions.

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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