13. November 2013
President Vladimir Putin
23, Ilyinka Street,
I write to you as the Secretary Geneeral of Norwegian PEN, the local section of PEN International, the writers’ and free expression organisation with 140 Centres in over 100 countries around the world, including Russia and many other countries in your region.
17 August 2013 marks the first anniversary of the convictions of Nadezhda Tolokonnivova, Mariya Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich – three members of the Russian female punk band, Pussy Riot. Convicted on charges of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ following Pussy Riot’s performance of a ‘punk prayer’ at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow in February 2012, each woman was punished with a two-year prison sentence (although Samutsevich’s sentence was later suspended).
The convictions and sentencing of Tolokonnivova, Alekhina and Samutsevich – which have been widely condemned inside Russia and throughout the world – represent a violation of their right to free expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Russia in 1973. One year after their convictions, these young women are now recognised across Russia and the rest of the world as victims of the crackdown on dissenting voices initiated by the government of the Russian Federation.
PEN’s deep concern over the continued detention of Tolokonnivova and Alekhina is matched by our alarm over recent changes in Russian law that unlawfully restrict free expression.
On 22 October 2013, Nadezhda Tolokonnivova was moved from a penal colony where she was serving a two-year prison sentence and it is believed that she is in transit to – or has already arrived at – an (as yet) unknown prison. Neither her husband nor her lawyer has had any contact with her for three weeks. Tolokonnikova’s husband has said that an official in the prison administration informed him of a possible move to a prison colony in Siberia, but this has not been confirmed officially.
Russia’s refusal to disclose Tolokonnikova’s whereabouts is a direction violation of the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which state that prisoners should be allowed regular communication with family and friends and that family members must be notified when a prisoner is transferred from one prison to another.
PEN International calls on the Russian Federation to immediately release the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot and to revoke the sentences of all three members of the band. We urge the Russian Federation to repeal its trio of anti-free expression laws – the re-criminalisation of defamation, the ban on the ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships,’ and the religious insult law. And finally, we call upon your government to fully comply with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect freedom of opinion and expression.
Carl Morten Iversen