(NEW YORK) — PEN America condemns the Russian government for placing London-based Grigory Chkhartishvili, better known under his pen name Boris Akunin, on its wanted list for alleged criminal activity. Akunin, a best-selling author of historical detective fiction and one of Russia’s most popular novelists, has been an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s atrocities committed in Ukraine.

“Since its invasion of Ukraine, Russian authorities have rushed to silence critical and dissenting voices, including writers, artists, and poets, who give expression to the kind of Russia that many dream of: free, democratic, peaceful. That the Russian government took the shameful and alarming step of putting Akunin on a “wanted list” speaks to the resonance of his anti-war statements,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America director for Advocacy and Eurasia. “Writers help people express their opinions and imagine a better future. The criminal charges against Akunin are baseless and pernicious efforts to vilify free expression in favor of false state narratives.” 

The specific criminal charges, which were not listed, add to an intensifying campaign by the Russian government to retaliate against Akunin and other anti-war advocates with the goal of stifling dissent. Earlier this month, the Russian Justice Ministry placed Akunin on the “foreign agents” registry, citing his opposition to the “special military operation in Ukraine” and participation in “fundraising events for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.” On December 18, Russia added him to its list of “terrorists and extremists,” as determined by Rosfinmonitoring, Russia’s financial monitoring body. On the same day, it opened a criminal case against Akunin for “justifying terrorism” and spreading “fake news” to discredit the Russian armed forces.

The Russian government’s persecution of Akunin has been accompanied by a crackdown on broader literary freedoms. Akunin’s books were removed from sale by Russia’s largest bookstore chains and publishing houses. Zakharov, the only publishing house to attempt to continue distribution, was raided by the police, who seized its inventory of Akunin’s works. In October, all theaters staging performances of Akunin’s works removed his name from posters, and one theater was ordered to cancel his plays.

“A seemingly minor event, the banning of books, the declaration of some writer as a terrorist, is in fact an important milestone,” Akunin wrote on Dec. 18. “Books have not been banned in Russia since Soviet times. Writers have not been accused of terrorism since the Great Terror.”

Numerous prominent Russian writers have been subjected to recent book bans, including author and public intellectual Dmitry Bykov, whose books were suspended at the same time as Akunin. Other writers in Russia continue to be jailed for voicing their opposition to the war, including poets Artem Kamardin and Egor Shtovba. In her first report to the Human Rights Council in September 2023, Mariana Katzarova, the Special Rapporteur on the situation for human rights in Russia, detailed the range of tactics the Russian authorities use to curtail artistic expression and dissent by cultural figures

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.