(NEW YORK)– PEN America today called for the immediate release of Russian artist and musician Alexandra Skochilenko from detention and condemned her arrest reportedly for joining anti-war protests in which people are replacing price labels in supermarkets with anti-war messages. Skochilenko is believed to be the first person in St. Petersburg to be detained under recent laws criminalizing ‘false information’ related to the war effort.

PEN America said Skochlenko’s arrest was a dangerous harbinger of renewed criminalization of free expression and political dissent throughout Russia.

Julie Trebault, the Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America, stated: “While the Russian authorities have been cracking down on artistic expression for years, the outbreak of the war has resulted in an exponentially more perilous environment for artists. They are walking a minefield where any political statement can be construed as an anti-war stance and any anti-war stance can lead to a decade in prison or a million-ruble fine. The fact that Skochlenko now faces potentially years in prison, for an alleged act of artistic protest, is a clear demonstration of how Russia’s criminalization of ‘false information’ is being wielded as a cudgel to suppress dissent, including artistic expression. We demand Skochilenko’s immediate release and call on the Russian authorities to stop their poisonous efforts to silence and harass artists for their artistic expression.”

“The arrest of Alexandra Skochilenko, for the alleged action of altering price tags at a supermarket, is deeply disturbing and sends a signal that the Russian authorities are ready, willing, and eager to criminalize free expression and political dissent in all forms,” said Polina Sadovskaya, director of Eurasia Programs at PEN America. “Alexandra Skochilenko is facing up to ten years in prison, simply for allegedly expressing her opinion on the war. We are closely monitoring the situation in Russia and vociferously condemn the Russian government’s heinous new laws targeting free expression.”

Skochilenko was placed in in pretrial detention on April 11 through May 31 and is awaiting trial for “discrediting Russia’s armed forces,” for which she could face up to ten years in prison. She has been diagnosed with celiac disease and cannot eat gluten, and has not eaten for the last several days while incarcerated. Skochilenko is a former member of Bumaga, an independent Russian news outlet, and has been an outspoken critic of the war, recording street protests and drawing anti-war postcards. She is the author of ‘A Book About Depression,” a popular comic book that has been translated into Russian and Ukrainian.

PEN America follows the developments in Russia concerning freedom of expression and artistic freedom through its Eurasia program and leads the Artists at Risk Connection, 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.

About PEN America

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. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057