Canadian Writers Call on Russia to Repeal Laws that Choke Freedom of Expression

On Feb. 6, 2014, the eve of the Winter Olympics in Sochi,Russia, PEN International sent an open letter to Russian authorities calling for them to repeal the three major anti-free expression laws: the re-criminalization of defamation, the gay “propaganda” law, and the “blasphemy” law. The letter was signed by more than 200 international writers, including more than 50 Canadian writers, as part of PEN’s worldwide Sochi 2014: Out in the Cold campaign.

An open letter to Russian authorities

The story of modern Russia is the story of dramatic, almost seismic change. Russian voices, both literary and journalistic, have always striven to make themselves heard above the clamour of their nation’s unfolding story — commenting on it, shaping it and, in doing so, contributing to the political and intellectual shape of the world far beyond their country’s borders.

But during the last 18 months, Russian lawmakers have passed a number of laws that place a choke hold on the right to express oneself freely in Russia. As writers and artists, we cannot stand quietly by as we watch our fellow writers and journalists pressed into silence or risking prosecution and often drastic punishment for the mere act of communicating their thoughts.

Three of these laws specifically put writers at risk: the so-called gay “propaganda” and “blasphemy” laws, prohibiting the “promotion” of homosexuality and “religious insult” respectively, and the re-criminalization of defamation.

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.

We therefore urge the Russian authorities to repeal these laws that strangle free speech, to recognize Russia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect freedom of opinion, expression and belief — including the right not to believe — and to commit itself to creating an environment in which all citizens can experience the benefit of the free exchange of opinion.

Canadian signatories:

Alison Gordon
Alix Ohlin
Annabel Lyon
Cary Fagan
Charles Foran
Charlotte Gray
Clayton Ruby
David Bezmozgis
Debbie Ohi
Ellen Seligman
Emile Martel
Entela Kasi
Eugene Benson
Francois Thisdale
George Melnyk
Haroon Siddiqui
Helaine Becker
Jane Urquhart
Janice Williamson
Jennifer Lanthier
John Massey
John Ralston Saul
Karen Connelly
Katherine Govier
Kyo Maclear
Laurel Croza
Lawrence Hill
Linwood Barclay
Lorna Crozier
Louise Dennys
Margaret Atwood
Marian Botsford Fraser
Marsha Skrypuch
Michael MacLennan
Michael Ondaatje
Myrna Kostash
Neetha Barclay
Neil Bissoondath
Nelofer Pazira
Nino Ricci
Patricia Storms
Patrick Lane
Philip Slayton
Robert Chang
Rohinton Mistry
Ron Deibert
Sarah Slean
Sheila Heti
Sheree Fitch
Simon Racioppa
Steven Galloway
Susan Coyne
Susin Nielsen
Tanis Rideout
Terry Fallis
Vincent Lam
Yann Martel

Full list of signatories can be found here.
More information on how you can take action in our Out in the Cold campaign can be found here.