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Associated Press.

Russian author refuses to answer police questions in pornography case that has raised fears of censorship

By ERIC ENGLEMAN, July 29, 2002

Prominent lawmakers and activists appealed to the Supreme Court chairman Wednesday to reconsider a treason conviction against Grigory Pasko, a military journalist whose case has MOSCOW - An iconoclastic Russian writer under investigation for disseminating pornography in his novel that depicts sexual contact between Soviet leaders Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev refused to answer police questions Monday and called the investigation of his writings absurd.

"I refused to give evidence because I consider this matter absurd, vicious and humiliating to me as a writer and humiliating to Russian literature as a whole," a defiant Vladimir Sorokin told reporters outside the Moscow police's main investigative department, where he was summoned for questioning.

Police opened an investigation of Sorokin's postmodernist 1999 novel "Goluboye Salo" — which can be translated as "Blue Lard" or "Gay Lard" — after prosecutors deemed parts of the novel pornographic. The book came to the attention of prosecutors after the pro-presidential youth group Walking Together filed a criminal complaint accusing Sorokin of disseminating pornography.

The investigation alarmed advocates of freedom of expression, who fear a return to Soviet-style censorship under Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer who was elected in part on the strength of promises to restore order to society.

Sorokin has denied that his book is pornography, saying that pornographic works contain pornographic scenes and nothing else. He says his novel is about a wider theme — the death of Russian literature — and defends his use of obscene words, saying they long ago became part of the popular culture.

The sharpest criticism of Sorokin's works has come from Walking Together, the pro-Putin youth group, which accuses the author of contaminating Russian literature. The group has staged a number of anti-Sorokin demonstrations, including one last month in which members tore up copies of his books and threw them into a mock toilet bowl in Moscow.

Sorokin and his publisher Ad Marginem have filed suit against Walking Together, alleging the group published excerpts of Sorokin's books without permission and seeking dlrs 150,000 in damages.

About 15 young supporters of the liberal Yabloko party staged a demonstration in support of the author outside the Moscow prosecutor's office Monday. The demonstrators, who held signs that read "We're Defending Art" and "Prosecutors and Censorship are Walking Together," said the case against Sorokin sets a dangerous precedent.

"It's very dangerous that authorities are again beginning to take an interest in such people and ... their creative work," said Yabloko lawmaker Sergei Mitrokhin, who attended the demonstration. "If we don't stop this in the beginning, we could have a very difficult time in the future."

Sorokin's lawyer Genrikh Padva said his client had invoked his constitutional right to refuse to give evidence against himself, the Interfax news agency reported Monday.

Sorokin has written several novels, plays and a film script, and his works have been translated into a number of European and Asian languages. If charged, tried and convicted of disseminating pornography, he could face up to two years in prison.

Sales of Sorokin's books have reportedly skyrocketed since the recent controversy, his publisher has said.

See also:
Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

Associated Press, July 29, 2002

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