Reports that Russian authorities in the Komi region have burned over 50 books and pulled over 400 more off college library bookshelves are a deeply disturbing sign of Russia’s increasing efforts to censor and control information, PEN American Center said today.

The targeted books were published with money from the Soros Fund. The Russian government declared Soros’ Open Society Foundations to be an “undesirable agent” in November 2015, and an intergovernmental letter obtained by Russian media in December reportedly claimed that Soros’ charities were “forming a perverted perception of history and making ideological directives, alien to Russian ideology, popular.” The Komi region’s education minister said the books were destroyed in accordance with an order from a presidential envoy.

Although the Russian Ministry of Culture has attempted to distance itself from the incident and called it “totally unacceptable,” the Russian government has in fact enacted numerous laws in recent years that attempt to ban and/or control various forms of expression and to restrict the public’s freedom of access to information of its choosing. These laws, which are applied arbitrarily, have created a climate of fear and censorship, leading many to take preemptive action including removing books from bookstore shelves, avoiding certain topics in news reports, and other forms of self-censorship in an effort to avoid government scrutiny.

“Burning books conjures up memories of the darkest days of totalitarian regimes around the world,” said Katy Glenn Bass, PEN’s deputy director of free expression programs. “That it is happening in Russia in 2016 is an ominous indication of things to come as President Putin’s stranglehold on free expression tightens.”

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,300 U.S. writers working to breakdown barriers to free expression worldwide. www.PEN.org

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1 646 779 4830