For the second weekend in a row, security forces in Russia lashed out against peaceful demonstrators, detaining some 1,000 people following protests in Moscow on Saturday. That comes just a week after more than 1,300 people were held in similar demonstrations that have focused on political repression. Videos circulating on social media show riot police attacking protesters, bloodying demonstrators, and wielding violent force.

Saturday’s demonstrations were sparked by the government’s ban on opposition candidates in upcoming local elections, but as with many similar demonstrations, thousands turned out to protest. PEN America, as part of the global movement for free speech, continues to support the right of any and all demonstrators to have their voices heard without the threat of violence.

With additional protests planned for the coming weeks, PEN America has been closely monitoring these demonstrations in partnership with our sister organization PEN Moscow and the Free Word Association. Those two groups today circulated a statement supported by PEN St. Petersburg and signed by 76 writers, poets, playwrights, journalists, translators, critics, and philologists. PEN America’s Polina Kovaleva, project director for Eurasia, translated the letter:

What is happening these days and weeks in Moscow is part of the greater history of Russia.

Citizens came out in defense of their constitution, protesting against lawlessness and any form of violence, no matter its source. By refusing to register independent candidates who collected all the necessary signatures, the Moscow Election Commission provoked a crisis. And the security forces, who started the suppression process, strengthened it. As a result, thousands of our young (and not very young) peers were illegally detained, and some face criminal prosecution. They did nothing illegal. There is no evidence of their guilt. But there is another shameless falsification. [The Russian authorities] started with falsification of elections, continued with falsification of criminal cases. What are they going to fake next?

PEN Moscow and the Free Word Association, following the PEN International Charter, foremost work to protect the right to speak. But you can speak not only with the help of words.

Walking through their city, demonstrating solidarity with unregistered candidates and abused fellow citizens, people say: We are against lies, we are for freedom, we are for honesty, we are for observance of the law. Therefore, we demand again and again:

    • The affirmation of the right to speak freely;
    • The release of all those who are illegally detained;
    • The end to falsified criminal cases against peaceful protesters; and
    • Allowing rejected candidates to participate in upcoming elections.

State-promoted propaganda repeats the same claims: By protesting, they say, you are destroying the state and leading to revolutionary chaos. No, it is the other way around. Ignoring the rule of law leads to chaos. Where there is no law, there is no state.

By demanding to comply with the law, we restore the state.

By protecting the innocent, we restore the state.

By calling to follow the Constitution, we restore the state.

Read more about PEN America’s work in Russia, including our advocacy on behalf of writers and others who’ve been persecuted by the Russian government.