2015 Belarus: Ihar Lohvinau

President Alexander Lukashenko
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Republic of Belarus

 

Oslo, 09.02.2015

 

Your Excellency,

Norwegian PEN are deeply concerned by the large fine imposed on the award-winning Belarusian publisher and PEN member Ihar Lohvinau for «carrying out illegal business activities». The Lohvinau Bookstore is convicted of operating without the required state registration and fined 976 million rubles.

In 2014, Ihar Lohvinau won the International Publishers Association’s Freedom to Publish award in recognition of his courage in continuing to publish important international works translated into the Belarusian language. His licence to operate was withdrawn in 2013 after he was accused of “promoting extremism”, after publishing a Press Photo book. Since 2013, Lohvinau has on six occasions sought the obligatory state registration to publish and distribute books, but has been denied a licence by the Ministry of Information every time.

PEN regards this denial and the imposition of a draconian fine on Lohvinau as a clear attempt by the Belarus authorities to silence yet another independent voice in Belarus. We call for the conviction and sentence to be overturned and for his business to be allowed to continue operating without politically-motivated hindrance.

Yours sincerely,

Ms Brit Bildøen
Chair of Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN
COPY: The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

2015 Belarus: Ihar Lohvinau

President Alexander Lukashenko
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Republic of Belarus

Mr. Sergei Popkov
Ministry of Communications and Informatization
10 Independence Avenue
220050 Minsk
Republic of Belarus

Oslo, 09.02.2015

Your Excellency,
Norwegian PEN are deeply concerned by the large fine imposed on the award-winning Belarusian publisher and PEN member Ihar Lohvinau for «carrying out illegal business activities». The Lohvinau Bookstore is convicted of operating without the required state registration and fined 976 million rubles.
In 2014, Ihar Lohvinau won the International Publishers Association’s Freedom to Publish award in recognition of his courage in continuing to publish important international works translated into the Belarusian language. His licence to operate was withdrawn in 2013 after he was accused of “promoting extremism”, after publishing a Press Photo book. Since 2013, Lohvinau has on six occasions sought the obligatory state registration to publish and distribute books, but has been denied a licence by the Ministry of Information every time.
PEN regards this denial and the imposition of a draconian fine on Lohvinau as a clear attempt by the Belarus authorities to silence yet another independent voice in Belarus. We call for the conviction and sentence to be overturned and for his business to be allowed to continue operating without politically-motivated hindrance.

Yours sincerely,

Ms Brit Bildøen
Chair of Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN

COPY: The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Hviterussland: Ales Bialiatski er fri!

Belarus:

Early release of writer and human rights defender a positive step

24 June 2014

PEN International welcomes the release following an amnesty, on 21 June 2014, of the Belarusian writer and human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski. The organisation is calling for the Belarusian authorities to clear his record of the politically-motivated charges on which he was convicted almost three years ago.

Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, said:

“Ales Bialiatski’s unjust imprisonment is emblematic of the harsh challenges facing writers and activists in Belarus, a country whose government continues to severely restrict the rights to free expression, free association and assembly. Whilst welcoming Bialiatski’s release, we remain deeply concerned by Belarus’ systematic political intimidation of both foreign and national media, which pushes writers and journalists into self-censorship.”

Bialiatski is the founder of the Vyasna Human Rights Center, a Belarusian non-governmental organisation that campaigns for opposition activists who are harassed and persecuted by the Belarusian authorities. On 4 August 2011, Bialiatski was arrested on spurious charges of tax evasion; on 24 November 2011, he was sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ imprisonment in a high security prison colony, with all of his property confiscated.

PEN campaigned for Bialiatski’s release, maintaining that he had been targeted as part of the Belarus authorities’ crackdown on free expression which began in late 2010. He was a key focus of the 79th PEN International Congress, held in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was selected to be the honorary ‘Empty Chair’.

At the same Congress, PEN addressed a public letter to President Lukashenko, demanding that Bialiatski be freed, that his conviction be overturned, and that he be provided with an enforceable right to compensation for his arbitrary detention. The letter was signed by PEN International’s president, John Ralston Saul, and by 51 PEN centres from around the world.

Bialiatski was kept in harsh conditions whilst in prison. On his release, he spoke of the isolation he had experienced whilst incarcerated:

‘Political prisoners in Belarusian jails are kept in different conditions than other prisoners. For instance, no one was allowed to talk to me, even if it was a friendly chat about weather or football, a person who approached me could be punished by the prison authorities. That was just one of many examples of physiological pressure political prisoners face in jail.’

He also said: ‘I am not sorry for those three years I spent in prison. This is the price you pay for making Belarus a free and democratic country. If we want to improve our life and drag Belarus out of the swamp it has been in for 20 years already, we need to be active and not to be afraid of repressions civil society faces. I knew what I was in prison for – that is why it was easy for me emotionally.’

Background
Ales Bialiatski was a founding member of the Belarusian literary organisation Tutejshyja (The Locals), and served as a former head of the Maxim Bahdanovich Literary Museum in Minsk. He has been awarded several human rights prizes in recognition of his work, most recently being awarded the first ever Václav Havel Human Rights Prize in September 2013. He is a Vice-President of the International Federation of Human Rights.

In 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that his detention was arbitrary and urged the Belarusian authorities to release him and accord him an enforceable right to compensation.

Irina Khalip: I was threatened, beaten and detained for my reporting

On 2 April 1997, while covering a protest against the proposed reunification of Belarus with Russia, she witnessed her father, a documentary filmmaker, get beaten unconscious. She herself was clubbed by riot police.That incident only galvanised her to continue to expose corruption in Belarus, especially as a journalist for the Minsk bureau of the investigative paper Novaya Gazeta (the paper of slain reporter Anna Politkovskaya).

So the threats and assaults continued. In early 2011, Khalip spent a month and a half in jail and was given a two-year suspended sentencefor her role in protests against President Alexsandr Lukashenko’s December 2010 controversial re-election, largely viewed as rigged.Today, she lives under house arrest: she must tell police her travel plans, and is banned from moving or leaving Minsk for longer than a month. Police visit her home sporadically, often in the middle of the night She is basically raising her child singlehandedly: her husband Andrei Sannikov, who won the most votes among the nine opposition candidates with 2.43 percent in the 2010 election, was given five years in jail for his role in the protests. During his trial, he said the chief of Belarus’s security services personally threatened harsh reprisals against his wife and their child. Authorities also threatened to put their son in an orphanage. Khalip says she won’t stop reporting on rights abusesbecause «[it would] betray my friends. [It would] betray the memory of their husbands. There is only one way to go ahead.»

This is the first of 23 cases that will be highlighted during the IFEX impunity-campaign in November, suggested by Norwegian PEN and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.  See all the cases on this link.

Send appeals to:

President Alexander Lukashenko
38, Karl Marx Street
Minsk, 220016
Republic of Belarus

PEN International’s kongress vedtar viktige resolusjoner

Resolutions from PEN International´s 78th world Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012.

Bahrain

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

On 4 September 2012, the High Court of Appeal in Bahrain confirmed the convictions of thirteen human rights defenders, bloggers and activists serving time in prison and seven others tried in absentia. They include human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and academic, blogger and human rights activist Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, who had been sentenced by a special security court on 22 June 2011 to life imprisonment. They are targeted for calling for political reform and for their reporting on human rights abuses in the country.

Despite the Bahraini’s government much publicised commitments to political reform, little meaningful action has been taken to implement reforms and ensure accountability. Violations are ongoing and peaceful opposition activists remain behind bars. Significant structural impediments to freedom of expression remain in place, and the authorities have denied or severely restricted access for international rights groups, including PEN International.

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World  Congress in Geongju, Korea, 9th  to 15th September 2012

Protests the decision by the High Court of Appeal in Bahrain to uphold the harsh sentences against Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and others solely for peacefully exercising their right to free expression;

Calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Bahrain solely for the peaceful expression their opinions, including Dr Al-Singace, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab;

Demands a full independent investigation into allegations that all three men have been tortured and ill-treated in detention, and to end the culture of impunity by bringing the perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment to justice;

Urges the Bahraini authorities to abide by their obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and to renew its commitments to freedom of expression as articulated in the National Action Charter of Bahrain of 2001 by enacting or amending appropriate legislation to eliminate all restrictions upon the freedom of the press, including criminal penalties.

BELARUS

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

On 4 August 2011, the writer and human rights defender Ales Bialiastki was arrested in Minsk, charged with tax evasion, charges which stemmed from his reported use of personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to receive funding from international donors for Vyasna’s human rights activities in Belarus.  His detention since August 2011 is as a direct result of his legitimate activities in defence of human rights in Belarus.  On 24 November 2011, Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to 4.5 years imprisonment with the confiscation of his property, including the property registered with other persons, on charges of tax evasion.  On January 24, 2012, the cassation appeal against the verdict of the Pershamaiski District Court of Minsk, of Ales Bialiatski, left the sentence in force: 4.5 years imprisonment in a higher security colony and confiscation of properties. The latter disregards the fact that all the taxes and penalties imposed on him had been fully paid by the time of the appeal hearing.

Ales Bialiatski is head of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” in Belarus, Vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and one of the founders of the Belarusian Human Rights House in exile.  Vyasna has campaigned for scores of opposition activists persecuted by the government of President Alexsander Lukashenko. It was stripped of its official registration in 2003, making it extremely difficult under Belarus’s economic laws to raise funds. The condemnation of Ales Bialiatski illustrates how seriously threatened freedom of association and freedom of expression are in Belarus.

Another member of Belarus PEN  Pavel Seviarynets, also an opposition activist and author of several books, was arrested in December 2010 for his involvement in protests was sentenced to three years in a “correctional institution”, a type of open prison where he will remain until the end of 2013.

These and other cases are emblematic of the type of pressure faced by writers and journalists who speak out.

PEN International calls upon Belarusian authorities to:

• Immediately release and drop all charges against human rights defender Ales Bialiatsky and Pavel Seviarynets; to fully rehabilitate him and to ensure unhampered activities of human rights and other civil society organizations
• Release all political prisoners and allow for free, democratic elections
• Stop censoring the internet and allow for a free, democratic exchange of ideas and opinions

 

Cambodia

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Geongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

Cambodia: On July 15, 2012, journalist, human rights activist, and director of the independent Beehive Radio Station Mam Sonado was arrested and is now standing trial on charges of insurrection. Mr. Mam Sonado is accused of inciting villagers in Kratie province in northeastern Cambodia to protest a government order to seize land in the village and transfer it to a private holding company. There are about 100 families in the village. A teenage girl was shot dead by authorities during that protest. Mr. Mom Sonado has never been to Kratie province and does not know any of the villagers, and was abroad in France when the protest took place. He has, however, been a vocal critic of forced evictions and «land grabs» in Cambodia, and has been jailed twice previously for speaking out against the increasingly common practice of appropriating property in Cambodia. PEN believes his current trial is the latest in a series of actions by the Cambodia government aimed at silencing Mr. Mam Sonado for exercising his universally-guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

Mr. Mam Sonado’s trial comes amid rising concerns over the climate for freedom of expression in Cambodia, where government critics are the target of intimidation and harassment and often accused of being members of opposition parties, and where at least 10 writers, journalists, and activists have been killed since the 1990s and many more have been forced into exile. In addition, several writers have been prosecuted under criminal defamation laws aimed at silencing government critics, and a climate of impunity prevails. In this environment, Mr. Mam Sonado has been a brave defender of the right of all Cambodians to freedom of expression. Beehive Radio is one of just two independent media centers that have programs that allow individuals from all walks of life the raise their voices and express their concerns about their lives and their country. Prosecuting Mr. Mam Sonado is likely to have a chilling on independent media in Cambodia and further shrink the space where Cambodia’s citizens can participate in discussions and debates about policies and issues that affect their lives.

Mr. Mam Sonado, who is 70 years old, has reportedly contracted a serious respiratory infection in prison, and there are serious concerns about his health.

PEN International therefore calls on the government of Cambodia to:

– Drop the current charges against Mr. Mam Sonado and facilitate his immediate and unconditional release
– End the intimidation of critical voices in Cambodia and take affirmative steps to protect the right of writers, journalists, and all Cambodian citizens to full freedom of expression.

 

CHINA

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

Welcomes the release of HUANG Jinqiu, TANG Cailong, ZUO Xiaohua,WANG Xiaoming  and GAO Chunlian, either on bail or due to sentence reduction, since the last Congress of PEN International in September 2011.

Also welcomes the progress in amending the Criminal Procedure Law by the National People’s Congress in March 2012, with the insertions of the constitutional principle of “respect and protect human rights” and a sentence of “authorities shall protect the defense right and other procedural rights legally enjoyed by criminal suspects, defendants, and other litigation participants” into its General Provision, and with the corresponding revisions of a large number of the terms and conditions for the rights protection.

Considers the continuous suppression of the right to freedom of expression throughout China, from its capital city of Beijing to the inland provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou and Huibei, to the coastal province of Zhejiang, to the Autonomous Regions of Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.

Alarmed by the relentless harassment of and attacks against Chinese intellectuals, particularly the arbitrary arrests of online bloggers and journalists, over 40 of whom are currently imprisoned, including the sentencing of CHEN Wei (9 years), CHEN Xi (10 years), LI Tie (10 years) and ZHU Yufu (7 years), making China one of the largest jailers of writers and journalists in the world.

Worried about the growing censorship of the Internet throughout the country, including the popular social network websites Twitter and Facebook.

Disturbed by the continuous use of administrative detention, including the infamous “Re-education Through Labour” (RTL) system, to jail dissident writers for up to 3 years without the due process guaranteed under its own laws.

Further disturbed by the increasing misuse of China’s Criminal Law to arbitrarily charge dissident writers, outspoken journalists and independent publishers with criminal offences to suppress freedom of expression and the press, in particular “endangering national security”, “(inciting) subversion of state power”, “(inciting) split of country” , “illegally holding/leaking state secrets”, and “illegal business practices” or alleged “economic crimes”;

Even further disturbed by the recent amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law which allow police to hold a suspect without informing a relative of either charge or whereabouts as long as they wish, possibly over a year, until there is an open trial.

Shocked by the increasing persecution of Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) members, including the ongoing imprisonment of LIU Xiaobo (11 years), SHI Tao (10 years), YANG Tongyan (12 years), and ZHU Yufu (7 years); the interrogation, harassment, threats, attacks, brief detentions, meeting and travel restrictions, passport rejections, and the work and life interruptions of more than 50 members.

PEN International therefore urges the government of the People’s Republic of China to:

• Stop the harassment and persecution of ICPC members, and lift all restrictions on their freedom to exit and enter mainland China, particularly to attend PEN International conferences and to return home;
• Cease its efforts to censor cyberspace and to immediately release all Internet writers jailed for peacefully expressing their opinions;
• Release all those in the autonomous regions of Tibet, Xinjiang Uyghur and Inner Mongolia who have been detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression,
• Release all imprisoned writers and journalists in China
• Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was signed by the People’s Republic of China in October 1998;
• Engage in a complete and meaningful reform of the Chinese legal system in accordance with international standards and its own Constitution to guarantee fair trials, the full rights of defence and appeal, the legal practices of attorneys, and a prison system that ensures the health and safety of inmates; particularly to cease the practice of using the charge of “subversion” against writers and of “holding/leaking state secrets” against journalists; and to abandon the infamous RTL system.

CUBA

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

Despite the recent release from prison of political prisoners, the government of Cuba continues to arrest, harass and physically attack writers, journalists, bloggers and independent librarians, as well as opponents peacefully struggling for human rights, such as the Ladies in White. This new wave of repression includes the kidnapping of activists, keeping them incommunicado in political police buildings, and only setting them free after alleged torture and under threat of a judicial writ indicating that they will be imprisoned if they continue those activities.

Furthermore, the government of Cuba keeps in force Law 88 from 1999, setting prison terms of more than 20 years for dissidents who claim peacefully their right to freedom of expression. Also, it keeps in force the Law of Security of Information, limiting internet information access to independent journalists.

The Cuban government, contravening Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights denies travel permits to writers and journalists to enable them to receive international awards, as is the case of blogger Yoani Sánchez, who obtained the María Moors Cabot Award in 2009.

These attacks on free expression in Cuba have been condemned by several non-governmental rights and press organisations, including the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which reported 3,645 short-term detentions in the first half of 2012, the Inter-American Society for the Press, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT).
:
PEN International therefore urges the government of Cuba to:

• Abstain from the arrest, physical attack and harassment of writers, journalists, bloggers and independent librarians for their practice of their right to freedom of expression;
• Allow the use of means of social communications such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other possible future technological means;
• Free the remaining political prisoners still serving terms in Cuba;
• Abolish Law 88 of 1999 and the Law of Security;
• Comply with Articles 12 and 19 of the International Convention on Political and Civil Rights, signed by Cuba on February 2008.

 

ERITREA

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Seoul, South Korea, 9 September to 15 September 2012

ERITREA: September 23, 2012 the journalist, playwright and writer Dawit Isaak has been in Eritrean prison for eleven years. Despite many efforts to raise his case at the international level, Dawit remains a long term prisoner of conscience.

Eleven years ago, Mr. Isaak was detained with a large number of other journalists, writers and opposition politicians after his newspaper published a letter which criticized President Isaias Afewerki. Despite serious concerns for their health and well-being, Isaak and his colleagues have reportedly been held without charge or trial in extremely harsh conditions ever since. At least four of the journalists arrested with Isaak are believed to have died during their detention and, according to news reports in 2012, only 15 out of the original 35 political prisoners held at Eira Eiro prison camp, where Isaak is allegedly detained, remain alive. Since 2005 there has been no certain confirmation of Mr. Isaak being alive, and 2011 it was even reported that Mr. Isaak had died. This rumour has neither been denied or confirmed by the authorities, and PEN International refuses to believe it’s true. Three more were confirmed dead last week.

Dawit Isaak was born in Eritrea in 1964. He immigrated to Sweden as a refugee from Eritrea’s War of Independence in 1987 and became a Swedish citizen five years later. When Eritrea gained independence in 1993, Isaak returned to his native country and became a part-owner of Setit, the country’s first independent newspaper.

PEN International is deeply concerned by the reported deaths of Dawit Isaak’s colleagues, and by a longstanding lack of medical treatment at the prisons where he has been held.

PEN International calls on the government of Eritrea:

• To honour its obligations under international law by granting the International Committee of the Red Cross, or some other reputable and independent organization, access to Mr. Isaak and those detained with him;
• To confirm and prove that Mr. Isaak is still alive;
• To provide independent assessments of their health and any medical treatment they require;
• To grant the immediate and unconditional release of Dawit Isaak and the at least 15 other Eritreans who have also been imprisoned for their writings since 2001.

Ethiopia

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September, 2012

ETHIOPIA: On June 27, 2012, the Ethiopian high court convicted Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega on charges of “conspiracy to commit terrorist acts” for the peaceful and lawful practice of his profession. On July 13, 2012, Eskinder was sentenced to 18 years in prisonLike many of his colleagues in the independent media in Ethiopia, Eskinder Nega has been the target of constant harassment since he began his career in 1993. In 2005 he and his journalist wife Serkalem Fasil were imprisoned for 17 months on treason charges for their critical reporting on the government’s violent crackdown of protests following disputed elections. When he was released he was banned from journalism. He refused to be silenced, publishing reports and essays on online media—most notably, reports critical of the Ethiopian government’s human rights record and its use of an overly-broad anti-terrorism law to prosecute journalists.  Now Eskinder stands as the latest victim of this troubling practice.

At least 5 journalists have been detained and 11 tried and convicted under the vaguely-worded Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009, which includes provisions the government has increasingly used to jail peaceful opponents and critics. Independent newspapers are consistently shut down, and social media is monitored and often banned. As official hostility to a free press and peaceful dissent has grown in Ethiopia, at least 150 of Eskinder Nega’s colleagues in the independent media have been forced into exile.

PEN International therefore calls on the Ethiopian authorities to:

• Reverse Eskinder Nega’s conviction and immediately release all journalists who have been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression
• Amend the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 to ensure that its provision protect the right of Ethiopia’s citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and full political participation
• End the intimidation and harassment of the independent media that has forced scores of Ethiopian journalists into exile.

 

Iran

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

Preamble: For decades there has been a widespread crackdown on peaceful political dissent across many aspects of civil society in Iran. Those targeted include writers and journalists, academics, women’s rights activists and human rights defenders. Separatist struggle places writers and journalists particularly at risk in Iran’s ethnic regions, and PEN International is alarmed at the number of Kurdish, Azeri and Arab journalists targeted for their critical reporting, peaceful activism and writings in support of their cultural and political rights. At least thirty writers are currently detained in Iran, many serving lengthy sentences, including Muhemed Sadigh Kaboudvand, Adnan Hassanpour, Abdolvahed “Hiva” Botimar, Nasrin Soutadeh and Shiva Ahari. Detainees are commonly held in poor conditions, without access to family, medical care and legal representation, and there are widespread reports of the use of torture. Trials commonly fall short of international standards of fairness.

The General Assembly of PEN International is:

Alarmed by the extensive violations of human rights in Iran, and the continued persecution facing writers and journalists who are particularly targeted by the Iranian regime for practicing their rights to free expression.

Concerned about the continuous policy of harassment of the Kurdish and Baluchi identity, language and culture depriving these groups from publishing, studying or developing their language.
PEN International calls upon the Iranian regime to:

• stop ill treatment and torture in Iranian prisons;
• stop the particular targeting of national groups such as the Kurds, Azeris, Arabs, Baluchi and Turkmen, and allowing them full practice of their cultural, linguistic and political rights;
• calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Muhemed Sadigh Kaboudvand, Adnan Hassanpour, Abdolvahed “Hiva” Botimar, Nasrin Soutadeh, Shiva Ahari, and all writers and journalists who have been arrested in Iran in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory.

 

MEXICO

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

MEXICO: Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer. Since 2006, at least 44 print journalists, writers and bloggers have been murdered in connection with their work; at least 9 others have disappeared. Of these attacks, very few have been thoroughly investigated. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, fewer than 10% of attacks against journalists and writers result in convictions. There is a considerable amount of evidence suggesting that state actors are often involved in attacks on journalists. In March 2012 the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression publicly recognized that many of the threats to journalists’ right to free expression in Mexico came from the state authorities themselves.  PEN is appalled by the continuing litany of killings and threats and calls on the Mexican authorities to do all in their power to bring this to an end.

In January 2012, an international delegation of PEN leaders from the Americas, Europe and Asia went to Mexico in order to raise international awareness of the violence suffered there by writers and journalists. They underlined that Mexico’s commitment to protecting freedom of expression will only be measured by a reduction in attacks on journalists and writers, and on the prosecution and conviction of those who commit these crimes.

On 6 June 2012, Mexico finally approved an amendment to article 73 of the Mexican constitution that makes attacks on journalists a federal offence. This change in law will provide investigators with greater resources with which to pursue their work, and protect cases from the influence of corruption at local state level.

On 22 June 2012, President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, signed into law a further amendment to article 73 that will oblige both federal and state authorities to protect the rights of journalists and human rights defenders.

PEN International calls on the Mexican authorities to:

• Swiftly approve the secondary legislation required for the effective implementation of the recent constitutional amendments, thereby ensuring that the new laws classifying attacks on journalists as federal crimes and affording journalists better protection, are put into practice on the ground.
• Demonstrate their commitment to freedom of expression by pursuing and prosecuting those responsible for attacks on journalists and writers.
• Acknowledge the role of state actors in violence against journalists and take concrete measures to address it;
• Tackle the corruption that is endemic at state level, and thereby remove a key cause of impunity in Mexico.

Further to the above, the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International calls on the United States of America, Canada and the European Union to:

• Place these attacks on Mexican writers and journalists on the foreign policy agenda by insisting that the above recommendations be implemented, and by conditioning future counternarcotics aid on the Mexican authorities taking genuine and effective action to redress serious human rights violations against journalists.
• Address their own countries’ role in drug consumption and in international

In session Resolution on Russia

Preamble
Recent months have seen a steep decline in the state of freedom of expression and the ability of society to act freely in Russia. The two year sentences served against Maria Alyokhiona, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Ekaterina Samusevich, members of the band, Pussy Riot, supposedly on “hooliganism” charges, are clearly a means through which to intimidate not only critics of President Putin, but also of the Orthodox church. The weight of the sentences for what in other countries, and indeed in earlier similar cases of civil disobedience tried by Russian courts, are seen as minor offences, makes this abundantly clear.

Earlier this year, the city of St Petersburg district a law banning “homosexual propaganda”, a law that could be used to penalise writings, plays, performances and other creative works. This brings the number of cities having such laws to four, and fears that they will spread to other cities in Russia. Commentators have pointed out that these laws have been passed on the initiative of the Orthodox Church, another indication of its growing influence  on the state.

Last month criminal libel was re-introduced only a year after it had been decriminalized only a year ago, part of a number of laws forced at great speed through parliament in July with acute negative effect on freedom of expression and association, leading to alarm at the growing authoritarianism.

Among the laws passed in July is the law “Regulating Activities of Non-commercial Organizations, which Carry Out Functions of Foreign Agents” that will demand that any organisation that is funded, or considering getting funding from abroad, to register with the Ministry of Justice as “carrying out functions of a foreign agent”. This only applies if the organisation is involved in political advocacy. This places enormous restraint on organisations in Russia, among them Russian PEN, under legislation using language resonant of the Cold War.

Alongside this, there has been no justice in most of the 53 killings of writers and journalists since 1992 (figs: Committee to Protect Journalists). Less than 10% of these killings have seen justice. Among them are journalist Anna Politkovskaya murdered in 2006, and her friend, human rights defender and reporter, Natalia Estemirova, killed in 2009. This not only grants a mantle of impunity for those who kill to silence, but does not bode well in this current climate where writers, journalists and artists who speak out are being identified by the state as traitors to the state and church, marking them as targets for gunmen.

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Geongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September, 2012

PEN International views with deep foreboding the growing authoritarianism in Russia. It calls on the Russian authorities to:
• Put an end to the arrest and sentencing of writers, journalists and artists who use words, performance and imagery to express their views on the society and politics in which they live;
• Review state and federal legislation that criminalises freedom of expression including through literature, the media and creative arts;
• To make it undeniably clear that the Russian government will not tolerate, let alone endorse, any threats of violence or actual attacks against its critics
• Illustrate its commitment to protect all its citizens against violence by speeding up the investigations into killings in recent years, and facilitating trial processes against those who kill writers, including those who orchestrate such murders, thus showing that the Russian state is able to provide justice and is not in thrall to criminals who are behind these atrocities;
Take note of the deep levels of concern of the impact that the  law on “foreign agents” will have on the capacity for Russia to have a well functioning, independent, civil society that is truly able to serve the Russian people, and to order a review of the legislation.

Syria

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012..

Preamble

Repression of human rights, displacement of minorities and ethnic discrimination is not news in Syria, where writers, human rights defenders and political dissidents have been harassed and persecuted for years – throughout its decades of dictatorship freedom of speech has been severely restricted for writers and media people in Syria across ethnic, religious and linguistic barriers.

During the popular calls for democratic change 2011-2012, however, the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad has increased its repression, trying to stop non-violent demonstrations with barbarous force.

Contrary to its international obligations and commitments to UN human rights conventions, the Syrian dictatorship has made a horrendous effort to prevent writers and journalists, local as well international, from covering the crisis. Media people have been arrested without charge, many tortured, several killed.

Although promising the former special representative of the UN, Mr. Kofi Annan, that political prisoners would be released and that media would have free access to all parts of Syria, the Assad dictatorship continuously has prevented media people from entering the country and/or cities or provinces of crisis.

PEN International is well aware that non-governmental armed groups have become part of the Syrian crisis. It is however the responsibility of the Syrian government to ensure the safety of its people as well as human rights, including not the least freedom of speech – rather than answering political dissent with violent repression and meeting calls for freedom of speech with heavy-handed censorship.

PEN centres representing more than 20.000 writers, bloggers, journalists, editors and publishers from all over the world, convening at the 78th PEN International congress in Gyeongju, Korea, call on the government of Syria and all parties of the Syrian conflict to respect the principle of freedom of speech as well as other principles of human rights.

The government of Syria must immediately release and drop all charges against imprisoned writers and human rights defenders and ensure unhampered freedom of speech and unlimited freedom to human rights and other civil society organizations;

The government must ensure and protect free access to all parts of Syria to all representatives of media;

And the Syrian government must stop censoring the internet and allow for a free, democratic exchange of ideas and opinions.

We also call on all parties to the conflict, including the Syrian National Council, to ensure the cultural, political and linguistic rights of all the ethnic groups in Syria.

 

The Turkey Manifesto

PEN International calls for an overhaul of laws stifling Turkey’s writers and journalists

Turkey has an extraordinarily high number of writers and journalists in prison with many more on release pending trial. Most are held because of their alleged affiliation to or support of organisations that advocate violence. However, PEN is worried that this situation has emerged as a result of the amenability of Turkish courts to broad interpretations of anti-terror laws, empowering overzealous state prosecutors to pursue cases where no material links to terrorism exist.

As of  September 2012, scores of journalists were reported imprisoned in Turkey.  Such figures are difficult to confirm; the complexity and obfuscation surrounding these cases makes them difficult to monitor, while releases being made under the Third Judicial Reform Package passed in July are still ongoing.

The Turkish legal system imposes extremely long periods of pre-trial detention on suspects. We have on our records people who have still not been convicted after four years in prison. These conditions create an atmosphere of intimidation for writers and journalists, who risk lengthy spells in prison when they publish controversial but legitimate comment even if they’re never convicted.

Even in cases without pre-trial detention writers, journalists and publishers in Turkey face lengthy trials that may last for years. More often than not, these less serious cases end with acquittals or minor fines, indicating that the reasons for prosecution are not founded under Turkish law. It is hard not to conclude that those who bring these cases have little regard for the outcome, and in fact do so to harass and intimidate the authors and send warnings to others. The draining, debilitating effect on the defendants in these cases can be immense.

In addition to the Anti-Terror Law, freedom of expression is suppressed under numerous other laws including  obscenity, praising offences or offenders, inciting the population to (usually religious) hatred and insulting Turkishness.  Legitimate political comment regarding public officials is also challenged through defamation cases.

THE SITUATION IS UNTENABLE AND REQUIRES IMMEDIATE RESPONSE. THE TURKISH GOVERNMENT MUST:

1. Order the review of all cases of imprisoned writers, journalists and publishers held and on trial under the Anti-Terror Law to ensure that none are being penalized for the legitimate practice of their rights  to peaceful freedom of expression and association.

2. Make much needed changes to the country’s draconian Anti-Terror Law, which allows for the imprisonment and pre-trial detention of writers and journalists with no material links to terrorism or the plotting of violent acts.

3. Revise other articles of the Turkish Penal Code that have been used to stifle legitimate political comment or to suppress creative  works.

4. Improve on the positive reforms made as part of the Third Judicial Reform Package by going further to eliminate unnecessary pre-trial detention and onerously lengthy trial times, and introduce a stringent means of vetting cases before trial so that weak indictments can’t be used to imprison, harass or intimidate writers and journalists.

 

Watch video-clips from the conference «Action on Belarus» on this website

Part 1
William Nygaard, welcome speech

Keynote speech: Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General, Council of Europe

Facts on the ground – four voices from Belarus
Adam Globus, writer
Tatiana Reviaka, Human Rights Centre Viasna
Natalie Radzina, journalist, Charter 97
Yury Zisser, owner of the Belarusian online resource www.tut.by

International challenges – Europe:
Andres Herkel, special rapporteur on Belarus, Council of Europe

Part 2

«The solutions and the way ahead»
Moderator: Per Dalgård
International challenges:
From the Norwegian government: Torgeir Larsen, deputy minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
From the young politicians of Belarus: Andrej Kim, blogger and youth activist
From the Norwegian Parliament and political opposition:
Peter S. Gitmark, MP the Conservative Party, member of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee
Q&A
From the Human Rights perspective: Anna Gerasimova, director, the Belarusian Human Rights House in exile, Vilnius
From the OSSE-perspective:  MP Morten Høglund, vice-chair of the Norwegian OSCE-delegation

Part 3
An introduction to the panel discussion
Ales Mihalevich, independent presidential candidate from 2010
The way ahead – a panel discussion
Summing up the way ahead & closing remarks by the organizers
Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee

22. March: Belarus Action – a one day conference

«Belarus Action»

A one day conference at the House of Literature, Oslo
Thursday 22. March 2012, 08.30 – 16.00

Our main goals:
– To create more attention about Belarus in the Norwegian public
– To challence Norwegian politicians to work out a new Belarus-policy
– To contribute to the work for a democratic Belarus

Agenda

08.30-09.00 Coffee, registration

09.00-09.05 Welcome from the organizers
Speaker: William Nygaard, Norwegian PEN boardmember

Part 1: «The current situation»
Moderator: Per Anders Todal, writer

09.05-09.25 Keynote speech:
Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General, Council of Europe

09.25-10.05 Facts on the ground – three voices from Belarus
Adam Globus, writer
Yury Zisser, owner of the Belarusian online resource www.tut.by
Tatiana Reviaka, Human Rights Centre Viasna
Natalie Radzina, journalist, Charter 97

10.05-10.15 International challenges – Europe
Andres Herkel, special rapporteur on Belarus, Council of Europe

10.15-10.25 International challenges – the Nordic countries
Dagfinn Høybråthen, MP – Christian Democratic Party,

10.25-10.45 Questions from the floor

11.00-11.40 Lunch
A «standup-lunch» with sandwiches, coffee/tea and soft drinks will be served at the venue.

Part 2: «The solutions and the way ahead»
Moderator: TBA

11.45-12.00 From the Norwegian government
Torgeir Larsen, deputy minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

12.00-12.10 From the Norwegian Parliament and political opposition
Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, MP the Conservative Party, chair of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee

12.10-12.20 From Belarusian authorities – how we will solve our human rights challenges
Andrei M. Grinkevich, Ambassador to Sweden, Denmark and Norway**

12.20- 12.30 From the young politicians of Belarus
Andrej Kim, blogger and youth activist

12.30-12.45 Q&A

12.45-12.55 From the Human Rights perspective
Anna Gerasimova, director, the Belarusian Human Rights House in exile, Vilnius

12.55-13.05 From the OSSE-perspective, Representative from Ireland
Speaker: TBA

13.05-13.15 From the EU-perspective
Speaker: TBA

13.15-13-30 From the Russian perspective
Pavel Sheremet, journalist

13.30-14.00 Break. Fresh fruit and drinks will be served.

14.00-14.15 The financial perspective – an introduction to the panel discussion
Ales Mihalevich, independent presidential candidate from 2010**

14.15-15.00 The way ahead – a panel discussion
A. Herkel, Natalie Radzina or Tatiana Reviaka, OSSE or the EU, others

15.00-15.45 Questions from the floor

15.45-15.55 Summing up the way ahead – practical and political challenges
Speaker: TBA

15.55-16.00 Closing remarks by the organizers
Speaker: Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General, Norwegian Helsinki Committee

The conference is organized, funded and hosted by the Human Rights House Foundation (HRH), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC), Norwegian PEN, the Norwegian Union of Journalists, the Norwegian Publishers Association and the Norwegian Non-fiction Writers And Translators Association (NFF) in cooperation with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Freedom of Expression Foundation (Fritt Ord). Organizing committee: HRHF, NHC and Norwegian PEN. Translators: Maria Fremming and Maria Kim Espeland. etc.

**) To be confirmed

For foreign participants and participants not living in Oslo – practical information:

There is no conference fee, but all participants need to register at pen@norskpen.no no later than 20th March.

Hotels in Oslo

The organizers do not have the capacity to book hotel rooms for participants, but Norwegian PEN can book you into a B&B across the street from the House of Literature. “Cochs” has a rate of around NOK 700 per night, breakfast not included, and is clean and safe. We cannot guarantee vacancy.

We can also recommend the Rica Holberg Hotel (Holbergs plass 1, 0166 Oslo, phone + 47 2315 7200), which is situated a 5 – 10 minute walk from the venue. They normally charge NOK 1.150 or less, depending on the weekday, breaksfast included. https://www.rica-hotels.com/hotels/norway/eastern-norway/oslo/rica-holberg-hotel/

Some other hotels close to the venue:
Clarion Collection Hotel Savoy
http://www.hotell.no/hotell/norge/oslo/clarion-collection-hotel-savoy
Visiting speakers and panelists will stay at this hotel.

Thon Hotel Europa
http://www.hotell.no/hotell/norge/oslo/thon-hotel-europa

Thon Hotel Slottsparken
http://www.hotell.no/hotell/norge/oslo/thon-hotel-slottsparken

Thon Hotel Gyldenløve
http://www.thonhotels.no/hoteller/land/norge/oslo/thon-hotel-gyldenlove/

When arriving at the Oslo airport do NOT take a taxi downtown as it is extremely expensive. The airport express train takes you downtown in around 20 minutes for NOK 170. The airport bus normally cost less, NOK 150 one way and NOK 250 for a round trip. It takes you to the Radisson SAS Hotel across the street from the Rica Holberg. A taxi from the train station to the hotel would normally be around NOK 150.

PEN-delegasjon nektet innreise i Hviterussland

PEN-delegation denied entry to Belarus

A delegation with members from Norwegian and Danish PEN was denied visa at the Minsk airport and had to return home.

At the Minsk airport in Belarus last Monday morning (December 5th around 2 am local time), a delegation with members from Norwegian PEN (boardmember William Nygaard, publisher Trygve Åslund and secretary general Carl Morten Iversen) and Danish PEN (board member and journalistNiels-Ivar Larsen) was denied visa and, consequently, entry to Belarus. Over the next two days, they were supposed to meet with representatives from PEN Belarus, the Belarusian Writers Union, BAJ – the Belarusian Association of Journalists and local writers and publishers. The trip had been planned for months.

Upon arrival at the Minsk airport early Monday morning (01.00 a.m.) they wanted to obtain visitors visa for a two days stay in Minsk. The group travelled as tourists as this is the only way to get into the country. Invited by a local travel agency, the visa applications, as well as air transport and hotel booking, was handled by a local Norwegian travel agent specializing in Eastern-Europe. All the paperwork was correctly presented to the visa-officer at the airport visa office at the Minsk 2 International Airport.

«The officers initial reaction upon presentation of my application and passport, was that he wanted to talk to the person who was going to pick us up and drive us to Minsk», says Iversen who had organized the trip. «I called him and they talked. Obviously, this was not enough and the officer then wanted to talk to representatives from the travel agency that invited us. I called an emergency number without results. I also called the Norwegian travel agent who tried to help, but with no result. I told the officer that no body picked up as it was the middle of the night – 3 am local time. His response was that we should have arrived with an earlier flight».

The atmosphere at the visa-office counter was building as two ladies arriving from Macedonia got into a heathed argument with the officer. After they left, the officer seemingly started processing our visa applications. At one point he asked for the visa fee and received a total of 360 Euros for four visas. After about 20 minutes, a lady in uniform arrived, got our passports from the officer, told us to stay and wait and then disappeared. After a little while we were escorted down to luggage reception to get our luggage as the airport was closing. We were then escorted back to the visa office. An airport or boarder police official then escorted us to a transit area were we were told to wait, guarded by a female officer. Very little information was given, but we understood that we had to wait until the morning flights departed. We would then be sent back to Norway and Denmark. We would get our passports upon boarding of the return flights.

No further explanation was given. At one point, a female customs officers who spoke decent English arrived and explained that this was the decision of the Consul and the decision could not be tried. She also said that it was the rights of the Belarusian authorities to deny entry, while still claiming the visa fee.

We were kept in a place with no access to food or water. At one point, one of the members of the delegation who had a heart condition, said he needed water to take his medicine. The female guard did not understand and thought he wanted a doctor. After a while, a female doctor arrived and wanted to examine him, something he denied – he only wanted water. The incident lead to a heathed discussion between the doctor and our guard. Around 6 in the morning local time, two seats were available on the morning flight to Frankfurt, and two of the delegation members left. They received their passports back at the gate. The two remaining delegation members left on a return flight our of Minsk at 3.30 in the afternoon.

Said delegation member Nygaard to the Norwegian daily Aftenposten´s web-edition: «It is important for us to show the world what kind of regime that rules in Belarus – this is among the issues PEN is focusing on. Belarus is a UN-member and it is important that we react when they behave like this.»

Oslo, December 5th 2011

PEN-delegation denied entry to Belarus

PEN-delegation denied entry to Belarus

A delegation with members from Norwegian and Danish PEN was denied visa at the Minsk airport and had to return home.

At the Minsk airport in Belarus last Monday morning (December 5th around 2 am local time), a delegation with members from Norwegian PEN (boardmember William Nygaard, publisher Trygve Åslund and secretary general Carl Morten Iversen) and Danish PEN (board member and journalist Niels-Ivar Larsen) was denied visa and, consequently, entry to Belarus. Over the next two days, they were supposed to meet with representatives from PEN Belarus, the Belarusian Writers Union, BAJ – the Belarusian Association of Journalists and local writers and publishers. The trip had been planned for months.

Upon arrival at the Minsk airport early Monday morning (01.00 a.m.) they wanted to obtain visitors visa for a two days stay in Minsk. The group travelled as tourists as this is the only way to get into the country. Invited by a local travel agency, the visa applications, as well as air transport and hotel booking, was handled by a local Norwegian travel agent specializing in Eastern-Europe. All the paperwork was correctly presented to the visa-officer at the airport visa office at the Minsk 2 International Airport.

«The officers initial reaction upon presentation of my application and passport, was that he wanted to talk to the person who was going to pick us up and drive us to Minsk», says Iversen who had organized the trip. «I called him and they talked. Obviously, this was not enough and the officer then wanted to talk to representatives from the travel agency that invited us. I called an emergency number without results. I also called the Norwegian travel agent who tried to help, but with no result. I told the officer that no body picked up as it was the middle of the night – 3 am local time. His response was that we should have arrived with an earlier flight».

The atmosphere at the visa-office counter was building as two ladies arriving from Macedonia got into a heather argument with the officer. After they left, the officer seemingly started processing our visa applications. At one point he asked for the visa fee and received a total of 360 Euros for four visas. After about 20 minutes, a lady in uniform arrived, got our passports from the officer, told us to stay and wait and then disappeared. After a little while we were escorted down to luggage reception to get our luggage as the airport was closing. We were then escorted back to the visa office. An airport or boarder police official then escorted us to a transit area were we were told to wait, guarded by a female officer. Very little information was given, but we understood that we had to wait until the morning flights departed. We would then be sent back to Norway and Denmark. We would get our passports upon boarding of the return flights.

No further explanation was given. At one point, a female customs officers who spoke decent English arrived and explained that this was the decision of the Consul and the decision could not be tried. She also said that it was the rights of the Belarusian authorities to deny entry, while still claiming the visa fee.

We were kept in a place with no access to food or water. At one point, one of the members of the delegation who had a heart condition, said he needed water to take his medicine. The female guard did not understand and thought he wanted a doctor. After a while, a female doctor arrived and wanted to examine him, something he denied – he only wanted water. The incident lead to a heathed discussion between the doctor and our guard. Around 6 in the morning local time, two seats were available on the morning flight to Frankfurt, and two of the delegation members left. They received their passports back at the gate. The two remaining delegation members left on a return flight our of Minsk at 3.30 in the afternoon.

Said delegation member Nygaard to the Norwegian daily Aftenposten´s web-edition: «It is important for us to show the world what kind of regime that rules in Belarus – this is among the issues PEN is focusing on. Belarus is a UN-member and it is important that we react when they behave like this.»

Oslo, December 5th 2011

2011: Belarus: Ales Byalyatski

President of the Republic of Belarus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Belarus

Oslo, 28th November 2011

Your excellency,

The non-political association of writers, PEN International, is condemning the sentence given to Ales Byalyatski, which appears to be part of an attempt to clamp down on opposition activism in Belarus. We are calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

Thanking you in advance.

Yours sincerely,

Fredrik Giertsen
Norwegian PEN
Wergelandsveien 29
0167 Oslo
Norway

Copies to:
Embassy of Belarus
Herserudsvägen, 5
18134 Lidingö / Stockholm
Sverige