Pussy Riot campaigner joins prison book ban protest

Pussy Riot campaigner joins prison book ban protest

Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Belarusian journalist Iryna Khalip and British theatre producer David Cecil are among the former prisoners and detainees who have written letters opposing a ban on sending books to prisoners in the UK.

Under rules introduced by the Ministry of Justice, which have been designed to change the system of punishment and reward in prisons, prisoners will no longer be allowed to receive books, special interest magazines, homemade birthday cards or small items such as socks and underwear.

Nine former prisoners have written letters in support of English PEN and the Howard League for Penal Reform’s campaign to lift the restriction on sending books. The letters, which can be viewed on English PEN’s website have been timed to coincide with today’s World Book Night (23rd April), an occasion when English PEN traditionally sends books to writers at risk.

Pussy Riot’s Tolokonnikova was convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after a performance in Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.

Khalip was charged with organising protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko after his re-election in 2010. She was held under house arrest and handed down a two-year suspended prison sentence, but charges against her were dropped last year.

Cecil was arrested in Uganda following the production of a play with a gay character in 2012 and charged with ‘disobeying lawful orders’. The charges were subsequently dropped and Cecil was deported last year.

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said: "These very moving testimonies are further evidence that books are a lifeline. The response we have had from around the world demonstrates the significant difference that literature can make for prisoners. We’re disappointed that the government has as yet failed to respond to our request for a meeting to address our concerns."

English PEN and the Howard League also say they are still waiting for a response to a letter to Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, requesting a meeting about the book ban.

Writers including Mark Haddon, Salman Rushdie, Jeffrey Archer, Alan Bennett, Carol Ann Duffy and Ian McEwan have previously protested against the book ban.

The government has defended its decision, saying prisoners can still access books from prison libraries.