More than 200 leading authors condemn Russia’s anti-gay laws as a ‘chokehold’ on freedom of speech

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More than 200 of the world’s leading authors have signed an open letter to condemn Russia’s anti-gay laws as a “chokehold” on free speech.

Writers such as Gunter Grass, Neil Gaiman, and Margaret Atwood have called for Russia to repeal its legislation banning gay “propaganda” just a day before the world’s athletes attend the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

In their open letter, published by the Guardian, the 217 authors said that three Russian laws in particular were putting writers at risk: the re-criminalisation of defamation, the blasphemy law banning “religious insult,” and the gay “propaganda” law.

The letter reads: “A healthy democracy must hear the independent voices of all its citizens; the global community needs to hear, and be enriched by, the diversity of Russian opinion.

“We therefore urge the Russian authorities to repeal these laws that strangle free speech, to recognise Russia’s obligations under the international covenant on civil and political rights to respect freedom of opinion, expression and belief – including the right not to believe – and to commit itself to creating an environment in which all citizens can experience the benefit of the free exchange of opinion.”

Writers from over 30 countries signed the letter, including Russia’s Lyudmila Ulitskaya, owner of the ‘Other, Others, Otherwise’ charity project recently accused of putting gay “propaganda” on the shelves of a children’s library, and three fellow Nobel laureates: Wole Soyinka, Elfriede Jelinek and Orhan Pamuk.

Booker prize-winning novelist Salman Rushdie, who also signed the letter, told the Guardian that it is “incredibly important to Russian writers, artists and citizens alike.

“The chokehold that the Russian Federation has placed on freedom of expression is deeply worrying and needs to be addressed in order to bring about a healthy democracy in Russia.”

Last year, it was reported that an author in Russia had managed to publish a children’s book prominently featuring a gay character and his struggle to find acceptance in the country, despite anti-gay laws.

Putin signed the controversial law in June banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has been criticised as part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.