Russia’s book police: Anti-gay law opens new chapter as censors target literature

A new “council of experts” set up in Russia is leveraging a decade-old law against gay “propaganda” to censure books. The move marks a new stage in the Kremlin’s control of information by targeting a broad array of literature, a cultural domain that has long enjoyed a special latitude in the country.

What do the novels, “A Home at the End of the World” by US writer Michael Cunningham, “Giovanni’s Room” by the late James Baldwin and “Heritage” by Russian writer Vladimir Sorokin have in common? These three works have not been sold in Russia since April 22 following a recommendation from a new institution that is emerging as a censorship body, according to Russian business daily Vedomosti.

The books were the first targets of a new council set up by the Russian Book Union, a nominally independent body representing publishing professionals. The council decided the works contravened article 6.21 of Russia’s code of administrative offences, which prohibits “propaganda” advocating “non-traditional sexual relationships” but is often used to target anyone “sharing positive and even neutral information” about LGBT people, according to Human Rights Watch.

A list of endangered books

The new council is “part of a broader information-warfare crackdown related to the anti-gay-propaganda law", said Jeff Hawn, a Russia specialist at the London School of Economics.

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