York PEN supports English PEN and PEN International‘s campaign against Russia’s ‘trio of laws’ which dramatically restrict the freedom of expression within the country. The campaign is organised to coincide with the launch of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
Since President Vladimir Putin returned to office in May 2012, a number of laws have being signed off which limit freedom of speech.
- Gay ‘propaganda’ Law. This law was passed in June 2013, and prohibits ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors,’ and therefore if anyone is seen promoting a non-heterosexual lifestyle, and/or ‘promotion of denial of traditional family value among minors’ can face being fined, and if a foreigner in the country, deported. This law has arguably seen the most ‘popular’ coverage, with notable celebrities including Lady GaGa, Chris Pine, Hugh Laurie and Madonna making the headlines with their protests against the draconian rule. Nevertheless, dark consequences of the law have perhaps being overshadowed by the ‘celebrity’ nature that this issue has adopted. 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.
- Blasphemy Law. Passed again in June 2013, the law criminalises ‘religious insult’ and those found guilty of breaking the law face imprisonment of up to three years or a 500,000 RUB fine. This is seen as an attempt to force conformity to a specific way of life, and deter stunts similar to the one carried out by the feminist punk group Pussy Riot.
- In July 2012, defamation was re-criminalised after a year of being legal. With its extremely harsh fines up to US$153,000, media outlets are forced into self-censorship in order to protect themselves, thus limiting the content disseminated through news and media institutions within the country.
These laws greatly restrict the freedom of expression within Russia. Having been introduced within the last 18 months, they mark a decline in not only the freedom but also safety of those within Russia who do not conform to the lifestyle and beliefs deemed ‘acceptable’ to society. It is for these reasons that PEN is appealing against them. Join us in this campaign!