Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007 holds one of the torches produced for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Ahead of the Sochi Olympic games this week, more than 200 authors called on the Russian leader to repeal laws that limit freedom of expression. (Alexander Zemlianichenko / Associated Press / August 11, 2007)

On the day before the Winter Olympics officially open in Russia, more than 200 authors, including several Nobel laureates, have called on President Vladimir Putin to repeal laws that limit freedom of expression and create a climate of fear among writers.

The letter, drafted by PEN International, declares that “during the last 18 months, Russian lawmakers have passed a number of laws that place a chokehold on the right to express oneself freely in Russia. As writers and artists, we cannot stand quietly by as we watch our fellow writers and journalists pressed into silence or risking prosecution and often drastic punishment for the mere act of communicating their thoughts.”

The signatories include Margaret Atwood, Gunter Grass, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie and Wole Soyinka. Among the American writers signing the letter are Jon Lee Anderson, Paul Auster, Russell Banks, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem and Francine Prose.

One of Russia’s leading contemporary novelists, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, also signed the letter, which makes specific reference to three laws: “the so-called gay ‘propaganda’ and ‘blasphemy’ laws, prohibiting the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality and ‘religious insult,’ respectively, and the re-criminalization of defamation.”

Ulitskaya told the Guardian that Russian authorities were attempting to impose "a cultural ideology that, in many respects, mimics the style of Soviet-era propaganda."

"Like many Russian citizens, I am deeply concerned about the increasing restrictions on freedom of speech in my country, about the ever-expanding legislation and arbitrary bureaucracy that affect all aspects of Russian life,” she said.

On Wednesday, gay rights activists held protests against Russia's anti-homosexuality laws in 19 cities around the world.

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hector.tobar@latimes.com