PEN International: Keeping Score at the 2018 World Cup

Keeping Score at the 2018 World Cup: Reporting on the dark side of Russia

Since 1992, 58 journalists have been murdered in Russia, the majority with total impunity.

Today, football teams from around the world will congregate in Russia for the 2018 World Cup. To mark the start of the tournament, PEN International is launching ‘Keeping Score 2018’, a digital campaign highlighting the human rights violations perpetrated by Russia and calling on its authorities to respect and protect freedom of expression and human rights.

‘The World Cup brings people together from around the world, irrespective of race, gender and religion. To uphold these values, it is our responsibility to highlight and hold to account governments that abuse power to oppress and silence those who stand in opposition. PEN will not turn a blind eye to the egregious violations of the Russian government because human rights are not negotiable under any circumstance.’ – Said Jennifer Clement, PEN International president.

PEN International has long campaigned for justice for writers in Russia, including in the cases of killed journalists Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova and Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev. More recently, PEN International and a number of its Centres around the world have been campaigning for the freedom of Ukrainian writer and film director, Oleg Sentsov. Sentsov has been serving a 20-year prison sentence since 2014, after being convicted 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.

‘The so-called charge of “terrorism” against Oleg Sentsov, and his sentencing of 20 years in prison, followed by his hunger strike, which continues, together are one more tragic instance where the real nature of rule in the Russian Federation breaks the surface. The regime would like brave men – and women – like Sentsov to be quickly forgotten. It is important that we don’t let that happen.’ – said Tom Stoppard, PEN member and British playwright.

‘The Russian PEN Center expresses deep concern about the situation with the film maker and writer Oleg Sentsov, and appeals to the President of the Russian Federation and other Russian authorities with an urgent request to show mercy to him as his physical suffering grows.’ – Russian PEN Center.

In recent years, the free expression environment in Russia has continued to worsen. 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.

‘The Russian authorities should fully comply with their international obligations by ensuring that journalists and bloggers are free to collect and disseminate information without obstruction and fear of reprisals, and by immediately ceasing overly broad blocking of websites.’ – said Elena Chizhova, director of St Petersburg PEN and Russian novelist.

‘According to Memorial Human Rights Centre there are 158 political prisoners in Russia. We at the Free Word Association have not forgotten the persecutions of those involved in peaceful protests from May 2012 to the present day, with new cases continuing to emerge. The FIFA World Cup should not be overshadowed by the suffering of people who are held in custody solely for their opinions. Oleg Sentsov has been on hunger strike for more than thirty days already. We cannot not let him die.’ – Free World Association.

Throughout the World Cup, PEN International will be highlighting key cases of persecuted and killed journalists and calling on Russia to cease pressurising, demonising or criminalising peaceful opposition voices.

The text has been originally published at the PEN International website.