While all eyes are on Russia for the Olympic Games at Sochi (Feb. 7-23), join PEN in calling for the repeal of the troika of laws that restrict free expression: the gay “propaganda” law, the blasphemy law, and criminal defamation.

Help spread the word: Join PEN’s international Thunderclap, an amplified social media message sent simultaneously from hundreds of accounts, demanding an end to Russia’s stranglehold on free expression. Simply visit www.thunderclap.it before February 6 to register your Facebook and Twitter accounts to send the automated message; no further action is required. Invite your friends to join, too.

Lobby the authorities: Send a letter of appeal to President Vladimir Putin, calling for the repeal of Russia’s draconian restrictions on free expression, or Tweet at Putin @PutinRF_Eng using the hashtags #OutintheCold and #sochi2014

Useful Addresses:
President Vladimir Putin
23, Ilyinka Street
Moscow, 1031132
Twitter handle: @PutinRF_Eng

You can find the Russian embassy in your country here.



In the 18 months since Putin returned to office, Russian lawmakers have signed a number of laws curtailing free speech and dissent. Three laws pose a particular threat to our fellow writers, journalists, and bloggers:

1. The gay “propaganda” law prohibits the promotion “of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors,” including the holding of LGBT rallies, or the “denial of traditional family values among minors.” Russian citizens violating this law face being fined; foreigners face deportation. Since the introduction of this law, LGBT groups have reported an increase in attacks on gay people and Russia’s media watchdog has already targeted one newspaper, Molodoi Dalnevostochnik, for “promoting” homosexuality in its coverage of the firing of a gay schoolteacher.

2. The “blasphemy” law criminalizes “religious insult” and provides punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of nearly $15,000 USD. The law is widely seen as a heavy-handed attempt to deter stunts similar to the one carried out by the feminist punk group Pussy Riot, who performed their “punk prayer” inside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February 2012.

3. Defamation was recriminalized when Putin returned to the presidency. This law provides cripplingly harsh fines—up to $153,000 USD—for violations and threatens to push small media outlets into self-censorship for fear of risking financial ruin.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Russian constitution, the State Duma granted an amnesty to jailed members of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alekhina in December 2013. Although their release was welcome, it should not distract us from the ever-growing threat to freedom of expression since Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in August 2012.

For further background information on the campaign, please visit PEN International.