Russian law censors swearing in the arts

The move is the latest in a series of laws aimed at stifling free speech in the country

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law censoring the use of curse words in the arts — the latest in a series of measures aimed at restricting freedom of speech and intimidating activists critical of his government.

The law – which affects books, movies, music and more – has far reaching consequences for Russian artists and cultural institutions, which face fines of $70 and $1,400, respectively, for each offense, the BBC reported.

The measure will be enforced from July 1, but which specific curse words will be censored has not been disclosed. It is in line with previous attempts to crack down on the freedom of expression.

In 2012, members of the punk protest group Pussy Riot were arrested for performing a song deemed offensive in Moscow’s main cathedral. It is unclear how the new law will affect the name of the Russian collective. An email for response from Pyotr Verzilov, the group's unoffical spokesman was not answered.

Russian artists have responded with both criticism and shock. Some of the nation's most well-known poets and playwrights use curse words prolifically — from classical Alexander Pushkin to contemporary post-modernist Vladimir Sorokin, The Moscow Times reported.

The law comes one year after Putin banned the use of curse words in media. That measure also did not stipulate which words were prohibited. However, The Russian Academy of Science said it mainly applied to words describing male and female reproductive organs, copulation and "women of loose morals," according to the BBC

In accordance with the new law, books containing curse words will be required to feature warning labels on their front covers. Indications of how the law would be applied to films, television broadcasts and plays remained vague. Distributors who fail to warn their customers about swearing in videos would risk losing their license, reported the BBC.

Also, a computer program that scans the Internet for curse words will go live in the autumn, the BCC reported, putting bloggers at increased risk of persecution in Russia’s tightly controlled media arena. 

Russia ranks 148th out of 179 countries that are listed in the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders, an international media watchdog. Various censorship laws, such as a law issued Monday that punishes criticism of the Soviet's Union role in World War II and a 2013 measure that criminalizes calls for separatism limit press freedom in the country.


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