More than 200 leading international authors including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen on Thursday slammed Russia's anti-gay and blasphemy laws as a "chokehold" on creativity as Sochi prepared for the Winter Olympics.
A gay rights protester rallies against Russia's anti-gay stance outside Downing Street, central London. (Reuters photo)
In an open letter published in Britain's Guardian newspaper, the writers said recent legislation outlawing religious insult and the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors, along with the recriminalisation of defamation, "specifically put writers at risk".
They vowed not to stand 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".
"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," it said.
"We therefore urge the Russian authorities to repeal these laws that strangle free speech."
Four Nobel laureates; Gunter Grass, Wole Soyinka, Elfriede Jelinek and Orhan Pamuk all signed the letter, along with other well-known authors including Carol Ann Duffy, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Neil Gaiman.
Rushdie told the Guardian that the campaign was "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," said the Satanic Verses author.
Russia paraded the Olympic torch through the Black Sea resort of Sochi for the first time Wednesday, two days before the opening of the Winter Games.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed that Russia will ensure hospitable and top class Games for everyone but the $50 billion project has been overshadowed by Russia's law outlawing "gay propaganda" to minors.
Gay rights group All Out organised protests in 19 cities around the world on Wednesday -- including Saint Petersburg in Russia but not Sochi itself -- and urged sponsors to "break their silence" on the controversial legislation.