(New York) – A Russian artist, theater director, and feminist activist may face up to six years in prison after sharing artwork on social media that promoted body positivity and LGBTQIA+ inclusivity. Yulia Tsvetkova was fined 50,000 rubles (US$ 780) for disseminating “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors” and faces up to six years in prison for pornography charges. The charges are a reprehensible violation of artistic freedom and part of an on-going attack against LGBTQIA+ activists in Russia, PEN America said today.

“Yulia Tsvetkova’s charges are just one more iteration of an increasingly virulent campaign launched by the Russian government against dissenting artists and members of the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Yulia now faces the possibility of years in prison for merely sharing her artwork online. The Russian authorities are making the stakes clear: if artists speak out in support of normalizing different body types or sexual orientations, their work will be quashed and their actions criminalized.”

The charges stemmed from two LGBTQ-themed social media pages run by Tsvetkova that feature artwork by female artists from around the world, showing artists’ depictions of female genitalia. Tsvetkova intended to use the pages to promote female empowerment and foster a community where artists could assert their sexuality. Although both pages were designated for adults, authorities charged Tsvetkova with propagating “nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” On November 23, Tsvetkova was put under house arrest for two months after being charged with “production and dissemination of pornographic materials,” charges which could result in a sentence of up to six years in prison. 

In 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a federal law banning “gay propaganda.” The legislation, titled “For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” was an amendment to the 2010 “On Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development” content law. Since then, the law has been used on countless occasions to crackdown on LGBTQ and feminist activists and artists. Violence against LGBTQIA+ people has reportedly doubled in the regulation’s wake. In March 2019, Tsetkova had to halt production of a play with a youth theater company that defied gender norms after the police began investigating it for spreading “homosexual propaganda.” The theater was ultimately forced to close.

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892