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Keeping Score 2018: Shrinking Space for Freedom of Expression in Russia

Keeping Score 2018

The 2018 World Cup is about to kick off in Russia, and while the world turns its attention to this global sporting event, PEN International is highlighting the violations of basic rights and free expression in the country by launching ‘Keeping Score 2018’. This digital campaign highlights the human rights violations perpetrated by Russia and calls on its authorities to respect and protect basic human rights.

How you can take part:

  • Social media - Share PEN International's tweets via your social media accounts;
  • Appeals - Send appeals on behalf of Oleg Sentsov and reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Russia, calling on them to raise his case in bilateral fora.

Freedom of Expression in Russia

The free expression environment in Russia has been worsening for several years. Laws passed since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012 have dramatically increased the Russian authorities’ control over the flow of information, online and offline. Much of this crackdown has been fuelled by Russia’s foreign policy, in particular its role in the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine and its armed intervention in Syria.

The clampdown on free speech is accompanied by mounting pressure on journalists and writers to stay in line with official opinion and by blocking websites carrying opposition views. Several people have been prosecuted and convicted simply for expressing dissent, particularly regarding Russian activity in Ukraine, while overbroad anti-extremism legislation continues to be used to bring about politically motivated prosecutions.

Violence against journalists often goes unpunished while impunity for killings prevails. Since 1992, 58 journalists have been murdered, the majority unresolved. In the last two decades six journalists from leading independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta have been killed in direct retaliation for their work, including the investigative journalist and PEN member Anna Politkovskaya. Although five men have been sentenced for her murder, those who ordered her killing have never been brought to justice.

Since the Russian occupation and ‘annexation’ of Crimea in March 2014, most opponents of Russia’s policies have been harassed into exile or silenced, while media freedom in the peninsula has been severely restricted. Prominent Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov – vocal opponent to Russia’s ‘annexation’ of Crimea – was arrested in May 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in prison on spurious terrorism charges after a grossly unfair trial by a Russian military court, marred by allegations of torture. He has been on hunger strike since 14 May 2018 to urge the Russian authorities to release all Ukrainian nationals currently imprisoned in Russia on politically motivated grounds.

Through its work, PEN International aims to repeal laws stifling free expression in Russia. The Russian authorities must cease pressurising, demonising or criminalising peaceful opposition voices. They must prevent and protect against threats and violence against journalists and end impunity for such crimes. They must also return all Ukrainian nationals arrested in Crimea and now held in Russia to Ukraine, and free all held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

Further information

For detailed information about freedom of expression in Russia, please see PEN International’s Joint submission to the Universal Periodic Review, its 2017 Resolution on the Russian Federation and its 2017 caselist.

For more information about freedom of expression in Occupied Crimea, please see PEN International’s report, Freedom of Expression in Post–Euromaidan Ukraine: External Aggression and Internal Challenges.

For more information on PEN’s wider work on free expression in Russia please contact Aurélia Dondo: aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org | t. +44 0207 4080338