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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Nobel Laureate joins exodus from Russian PEN

Nobel Literature Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich is the latest writer to have quit the Russian PEN Centre as part of a widening split within the organisation.

Alexievich, who won her Nobel Prize in 2015, said that she was leaving the organisation to protest against the expulsion of journalist and activist Sergei Parkhomenko.

Her statement came a day after prominent Russian writer Boris Akunin, whose real name is Grigory Chkhartishvili, announced he was leaving the Russian PEN Centre, saying that the organisation did not defend persecuted writers and so had “nothing in common” with the global PEN movement. The previous day, poet Lev Rubinshtein and writer Aleksandr Ilichevsky had quit the group in protest at the expulsion of prominent journalist and activist Sergei Parkhomenko.

Officially, Parkhomenko was expelled from the group for “provocative activity” but he wrote on the website of Ekho Moskvy radio that he was punished for criticising the Russian PEN Centre for failing to support Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who is serving 20 years in a Russian prison after being convicted of plotting terrorist attacks.

Sentsov, a native of Crimea, was a vocal opponent of Russia’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. He denies the allegations of terrorist involvement. The European Union, Amnesty International and others in the West have all condemned his arrest and imprisonment.

Speaking to the Interfax news agency on January 10, Russian PEN Centre President Yevgeny Popov denied claims of a split in the organisation, saying there are more than 400 members of the organisation and “only one Parkhomenko”.