(New York, NY) – A Russian feminist artist and LGBTQIA+ activist is being tried this week on charges of disseminating pornography for her artwork that depicts nude female bodies and genitalia. If convicted, Yulia Tsvetkova could face up to six years in prison. PEN America today called the charges an egregious violation of artistic freedom of expression, and renewed its demand for Russian authorities to cease all proceedings against Tsvetkova. 

“Yulia Tsvetkova’s case is not about pornography: It is about silencing women and LGBTQIA+ people,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Russian authorities’ dubious efforts to depict Tsvetkova’s vibrant and dynamic artwork as pornography is a barely-veiled pretense to crack down on a voice that has been outspoken in supporting women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights and identity at a time when those rights have been increasingly limited in Russia. The courts must free Tsvetkova unconditionally and drop all charges against her.”

“The case against Yulia Tsvetkova is simply absurd,” said Polina Sadovskaya, program director for Eurasia at PEN America. “It is unclear how the prosecution can even begin to suggest that Tsvetkova’s drawings in celebration of female anatomy remotely resemble pornography. Yet crackdowns on social media in Russia are now at an all-time high, and it is crucial to see these charges against Tsvetkova not only as retaliation for her activism, but also as a warning to others. This case sends a clear message to Russian youth that feminist self-expression can and will be punished.”  

Over the past two years, Tsvetkova has also been fined twice for violating Russia’s law against “gay propaganda,” first for running an LGBTQIA+-themed online group, and then for one of her drawings supporting LGBTQIA+ families. Tsvetkova is not the only feminist artist standing trial this year. Last month, Pussy Riot members Maria “Masha” Alekhina and Lucy Shteyn appeared in court on charges of “inciting violations of sanitary regulations,” after sharing posts on Instagram encouraging people to join protests.

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. ARC recently released A Safety Guide For Artists, a resource that offers practical strategies to help artists understand, navigate, and overcome risk, and features an interview with Yulia Tsvetkova about her case and the state of free expression in Russia. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.