2016: International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

anna-politkovskaya

In solidarity with PEN International and PEN Centers around the world, Norwegian PEN observes November 2nd as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.  On this day we commemorate journalists who have been killed in their search for truth and transparency, and for reporting news to the public in an attempt to hold both governmental and non-governmental actors honest and accountable.  As PEN International reports, 80 cases of impunity for crimes against journalists were recorded in 2015, and it is high time to “end to the climate of impunity that allows attacks against journalists to go unpunished”.

In light of this international day of recognition, PEN wishes to highlight the case of Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian investigative journalist and writer, whose work on the Chechen conflict and vociferous criticism of President Putin’s policies in Chechnya ultimately led to her untimely death on 7 October, 2006.

Due to her rigorous reporting for Novaya Gazeta, and her open critiques of Putin’s regime, Politkovskaya was subject to severe harassment from Russian authorities, and in 2004 she was poisoned a flight to North Ossetia, on her way to negotiate the release of hostages in a Beslan school.

On 7 October, 2006, Politkovskaya was the victim of a contract killing; she was found shot in the head in the elevator of her Moscow apartment, and though 5 men were finally convicted of her murder in June 2014, it is widely believed that the true masterminds behind her killing, and those that ordered the attack have not been brought to justice.

Tragically, Politkovskaya’s death is only one of many such stories among journalists.   Similarly, Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev was shot to death in 2015 outside his home in Makhachkala, and now, three years later, no one has been arrested in connection with his murder. In 2009, journalist and human rights defender Natalia Estemirova, a colleague of  Politkovskaya’s, was kidnapped and murdered in Grozny, Chechnya.  Her family is still awaiting justice seven years later.

According to PEN International, “impunity remains a serious concern in Russia, with the Committee to Protect Journalists recording at least 36 cases of murders of journalists in the country since 1992, the majority unresolved”.

Norwegian PEN and the Writers in Prison Committee call on President Putin and the Russian authorities to honour their commitment to free speech and freedom within their media, and to demonstrate this commitment with a renewed investigation into Politkovskaya’s death, with an aim to identify and convict those who are truly responsible for her assassination.

An open letter to President Putin:

2 November, 2016

To His Excellency
President Vladimir Putin,

On behalf of Norwegian PEN and the Writers in Prison Committee, we call on you and the Russian authorities to honour your domestic and international commitments to freedom of expression, and to ensure the effective protection of this right for journalists, as well as their protection against all forms of violence that result from their work.

We observe November 2nd as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, and take this opportunity to remember Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist and writer who was assassinated on 7 October 2006, after taking a critical stance of the Russian government’s policies in Chechnya.

Although we recognize the efforts that have been made thus far in connection with Politkovskaya’s murder, namely the conviction of 5 of her killers in 2014, we do not feel that justice has been served, or that the actors truly responsible for her death have been exposed.

We urge the Russian authorities to demonstrate their commitment to end impunity for crimes against journalists by renewing their investigation into Politkovskaya’s death, and by identifying and convicting the masterminds behind her killing.

Yours sincerely,

Ms Brit Bildøen
Chair of Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN

Ms Iva Gavanski
Advisor, Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN

COPY: The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

October 2016: Asieh Amini

Guest Writer of the Month

asieh-amini
Photo by: Javad Montazeri

Asieh Amini, poet, journalist, and activist, was born in 1973 in Mazandaran Province in Northern Iran. While completing her studies in journalism at Allameh Tabataba’I University in Tehran, Amini worked for several newspapers such as Iran, Zan, and Etemaad (where she worked as social editor), and would later go on to manage the website “Women in Iran”.

From 2004, Amini fought indefatigably to garner international aid and attention for Iranian cases of stoning, juvenile execution, and various kinds of discrimination against women and girls. In October 2006, Amini co-founded the campaign “Stop Stoning Forever”, and became fully immersed in her work as an activist for women’s rights. Her seminal work in journalism has helped to expose Iran’s ongoing stonings, despite Ayatollah Shahroudi’s 2002 moratorium banning the practice.

Amini has emerged triumphantly from a world of arrests, threats, discrimination and censorship to be lauded for her achievements worldwide. In 2005, Amini’s first book of poetry was selected by UNESCO’s office in Tehran as the best poetry collection from young and emerging Iranian poets. Her other accolades include the Human Rights Watch Hellmann/Hammett award (2009), the Oxfam Novib/PEN award (2012), and the Ord i Grenseland Prize (2014).

After a brief imprisonment in 2007, Amini continued her work and activism under pressure. Following a controversial presidential election in 2009, she left her home and eventually came to reside as an ICORN guest writer in Trondheim (2010-2012). She published her first poetry collection in Norwegian in 2011, entitled Kom ikke til min drømmer med gavær (“Don’t come into my dreams with guns”, translated from Farsi into Norwegian by Nina Zandjani), which was followed by a second collection in 2013, Jeg savner å savne deg (“I miss missing you”).

Amini underlines that although her work fighting stoning and the death penalty is of grave importance, and the number of executions in Iran has even increased, these causes should not overshadow various other issues concerning human rights in Iran. Amini asserts, “I believe that the basis of transition and change should be arranged within a society, and in connection with a world community of civil societies. Unfortunately, in Iran, we have had problems with both”. Despite fierce and dedicated activism in the fields of women’s rights, workers’ movements, student movements, human rights groups, and media, Amini feels that the voices of these civil society activists are often silenced domestically, and “hardly heard in the international community because of political and economic interests”.

When asked to highlight a single issue for the international rights community, Amini replied unequivocally: “the freedom of expression of independent civil society. After the Islamic revolution in 1979, and especially after the political conflicts in the 1980’s, during which thousands of people were imprisoned or executed, [Iranians] have never really experienced freedom of speech”.

Amini compares the initial shock and impact of moving to Norway to a business man suddenly losing all of his wealth; “as a poet and journalist, [your] language and audience are your wealth. You can’t bring them to your new home when you move”. Amini recalls her tears upon hearing her daughter speak in her sleep, in a language her mother could not understand. The challenge of a new life caught Amini on the precipice of an abyss, in danger of falling into a deep depression. Rather than tumble over the edge, Amini gritted her teeth, learned Norwegian, and moved forward fearlessly. She credits her continued success in Norway primarily to her family, and to her ICORN coordinator. The latter’s efforts and familiarity with the challenges that face new guest writers helped to ease Amini’s transition into her new community, and aided in creating a growing network that would allow her to continue her work as a writer.

Amini is currently working on a new documentary book, as well as a new book of poetry, while simultaneously completing a Master’s at NTNU in Equality and Diversity. She continues her fight for freedom of speech in cooperation with Norwegian PEN, for which she currently serves on the Board of Directors, as well as maintaining her contacts in the Iranian community of human and women’s rights.

To read more about Asieh Amini’s work in Iran concerning stoning and juvenile execution, see Laura Secor’s article, “War of Words”, as featured in the New Yorker (January, 2016):

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/01/04/war-of-words-annals-of-activism-laura-secor

2016 Iran: Concern for Narges Mohammadi

Norwegian PEN has sent an appeal to the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and to the Secretary General, High Council for Human Rights, regarding the case of journalist and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi.
Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street, Qom,

Islamic Republic of Iran

Oslo, 06.10.2016

Your Excellency,
With great sorrow and concern, Norwegian PEN has received the news that the 16-year prison sentence against prominent journalist and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi, who is critically ill, has been upheld on appeal.
PEN International has been calling on the Iranian authorities to quash all the convictions of Narges Mohammadi and release her immediately and unconditionally as she is imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression. We have also expressed grave concern for the health and welfare of Narges Mohammadi, and urged the authorities to allow Mohammadi regular access to her family, including regular telephone calls to her children who are abroad.Most of all we wish to see this brave woman set free, and to register that the right to freedom of expression in Iran is fully respected in law and practice as provided for under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Iran is a state party. This sentence comes as Iran’s authorities are preparing for renewed bilateral dialogue with the EU, and casts serious doubts over Iran’s commitment to engage meaningfully with the EU on human rights issues.Norwegian PEN urges the Iranian authorities to repeal the grave sentence against Nargas Mohammadi. Yours sincerely,Ms Brit Bildøen

Chair of Writers in Prison Committee

Norwegian PEN

COPIES TO:

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Oslo,
Secretary General, High Council for Human Rights, Mohammed Javad Larijan.
In June 2016, Narges Mohammadi wrote a letter to PEN International, explaining her conditions in prison, calling for help to combat the use of solitary confinement as torture.

2016 Egypt: Ahmed Naji

Egyptian writer Ahmed Naji remains imprisoned on his birthday:

After nearly seven months in prison, novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji’s motions for a stay of execution have been denied, and he continues to await a date for his appeal, despite his lawyer’s having filed for one in late April.

Naji’s imprisonment began in February 2016, after published excerpts from his 2014 novel, Istikhdam al-Hayat (The Use of Life), were deemed to ‘violate public modesty’ under article 178 of Egypt’s penal code, largely because the work described scenes of drug use and sexuality.  Alongside Naji’s arrest and two-year sentence comes also a conviction and fine for his publisher Tarek El Taher, editor of Akhbar al-Adab magazine.

Ahmed Naji’s work was approved before publication by the Publications Censorship Authority, and as a work of fiction, is clearly a legitimate exercise of his freedom of expression under international law.  Criminal charges were brought against Naji because of an individual reader’s complaint, and though the former was originally acquitted on 2 January 2016, he continues to be persecuted and unjustly imprisoned by the Egyptian judiciary.

PEN International reports that “over 500 Egyptian writers and artists have signed a statement in solidarity with Naji, and in May over 120 international writers, editors and artists joined a PEN America statement calling on President Sisi to drop the charges against Naji, and to release him immediately.”  Furthermore, Naji has been awarded the 2016 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

Sadly, in recent months there has been a steady decline for respect of freedom of expression, association, and assembly in Egypt.  Naji is just one of many writers, poets, publishers, and journalists, and activists whose voices are being punished or silenced for their dissenting, or merely creative, opinions.

According to PEN International, “Restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt have also been accompanied by a crackdown on cultural houses, [..] publishing house[s], and […] human rights defenders, with NGO workers repeatedly being summoned for questioning, banned from travelling and having their assets frozen”.

Norwegian PEN and the Writers in Prison Committee take this opportunity to stand in solidarity with Naji and his fellow artists, and call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Click here to read our letter to the Egyptian authorities.

An English translation of Chapter 6 of Istikhdam al-Hayah (The Use of Life) by Ahmed Naji is  available here.

2016: Norsk PENs kollega Erol Önderoglu fengslet i Istanbul

reporters_without_border_erol_onderoglu_turkey_press_fredom.jpg_1718483346

En nær venn av Norsk PEN, Erol Önderoglu og hans to kolleger, Ahmet Nesin og Sebnem Korur Fincanci ble i går varetektsfengslet fordi de har vært aktive i en solidaritetskampanje for den kurdiske dagsavisen Özgür Gündem. Tiltalen har vært kjent en stund, men i går dømte en domstol i Istanbul dem til varetekt fram til rettssaken skal finne sted.

Johann Bier, leder for Reportere Uten Grensers Østeuropa- og Asia-desk, kaller dette en «svart dag for ytringsfriheten» og sier at «Erol Önderoglu har kjempet utrettelig for å forsvare forfulgte journalister de siste 20 årene. Han er en leder i dette arbeidet på grunn av sin ærlighet og integritet, noe som er anerkjent i presse- og ytringsfrihetsmiljøer over hele verden.»

Bakgrunnen for tiltalen mot Önderoglu og hans to kolleger er tre artikler som ble publisert i Özgür Gündem 18. mai om maktkampene innen de tyrkiske sikkerhetsstyrkene, samt om de pågående militære operasjonene mot Kurdistans Arbeiderparti (PKK) i Anatolia.

Önderoglu er en nær kollega av Norsk PEN. Han har rapportert til RSF om ytringsfrihetssituasjonen i Tyrkia via nettavisen BIANET siden 1996. Han er medlem av rådet til ytringsfrihetsnettverket IFEX og deltok også på et seminar om ekstremisme og journalistikk ved Institutt for journalistikk og mediefag på Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus i mars i år.

William Nygaard, styreleder i Norsk PEN, kaller fengslingene sjokkerende og uakseptable. De viser nok en gang et Tyrkia i rettslig oppløsning.

Den norske regjeringen må reagere overfor Tyrkias regjering med krav om at de tre settes fri.

2016 Iran: Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand

Kurdish Iranian journalist, writer, and activist Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand was released from hospital after his most recent hunger strike, though serious concerns persist regarding his health. Norwegian PEN and the WiPC call for Kaboudvand’s immediate and unconditional release.  Read our letter to the Iranian authorities below: 

 

Leader of the Islamic Republic

Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the Norwegian Writers in Prison Committee and Norwegian PEN, we write to you to express our grave concerns for the health and welfare of Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand.  Kaboudvand is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence, and facing the recent possibility of new charges he began a hunger strike on May 8th of this year.  Alongside reports of ill-treatment, solitary confinement, and even torture, we are increasingly concerned about Kaboudvand’s deteriorating health, and we demand that the Iranian authorities ensure he receives all necessary medical attention as a matter of the utmost urgency.

Furthermore, we call on the Iranian authorities to quash all convictions and drop any fresh charges against Kaboudvand.  We demand his unconditional and immediate release, since his imprisonment is based on a violation of his right to the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.  In November 2012, the United Nations Working Group of Arbitrary Detention found Kaboudvand’s detention to be arbitrary (opinion 48/2012), and also called for his release and right to compensation.  The Iranian authorities did not heed this call, and we deeply urge you again to reconsider the legitimacy of Kaboudvan’s imprisonment.

As an Honorary Member of Austrian PEN, PEN Català, Swedish PEN and Sydney PEN, Kaboudvand is an important pillar in the international community for freedom of expression and human rights.  We implore you to respect those rights, as Iran has committed to do for all of its citizens.

The WiPC and Norwegian PEN urge the Iranian authorities to ensure that the right to freedom of expression in Iran is fully respected in law and practice as provided for under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.  We remind you of your obligations to protect these rights under domestic and international law, and the obligation to ensure the fundamental freedoms and health and welfare of your citizens while they exercise their right to freedom of expression.

Yours sincerely,

Ms Brit Bildøen
Chair of Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN

Ms Iva Gavanski
Advisor, Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN

 

Copy:    The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Oslo, 13.06.2016

2016 Iran: Narges Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi

Letter from Narges Mohammadi to the PEN Membership

Imprisoned Iranian journalist and activist Narges Mohammadi writes a moving letter from prison to the international PEN Membership:

Dear members of International PEN,

I’m writing this letter to you from the Evin Prison. I am in a section with 25 other female political prisoners, with different intellectual and political point of view. Until now 23 of us, have been sentenced to a total of 177 years in prison (2 others have not been sentenced yet). We are all charged due to our political and religious tendency and none of us are terrorists.

The reason to write these lines is, to tell you that the pain and suffering in the Evin Prison is beyond tolerance. Opposite other prisons in Iran, there is no access to telephone in Evin Prison.  Except for a weekly visit, we have no contact to the outside. All visits takes place behind double glass and only connected through a phone. We are allowed to have a visit from our family members only once a month.

But it is the solitary confinement, which is beyond any kind of acceptable imprisonment. We – 25 women – have detained in total more than 12 years in solitary confinement. Political prisoners who are considered dangerous terrorists are held in solitary confinement indefinitely. Retention in solitary confinement can vary from a day up to several years.

However, according to regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, holding prisoners in solitary confinement is illegal. Unfortunately until now, the solitary confinement, as a psychological torture, has had many victims in Iran.

During 14 years long activity of the Center for Human Rights Defenders, the Center have published and held many protests against the use of this kind of punishment. But unfortunately the solitary confinement is still used against many of Iran’s political prisoners. The solitary confinement is used to get forced and false confessions out of the defendants. These false and faked confessions are used against the defendants during the trials. Many of the detainees in the solitary confinement are suffering from mental and physical health problems and the injuries will remain with them for the rest of their life. As a matter of a fact, the solitary confinement is nothing but a closed and dark room. A dimly confined space, deprived of all sounds and all light that can give the inmates a sense of humanity. Personally, I have been in solitary confinement three times since 2001. Once during my interrogation in 2010, I suffered a panic neurotic attacks, which I had never experienced before.

As a defender of human Right, who has experienced and have had dialogues with many people detained in solitary confinement, I emphasize that this kind of punishment is inhuman and can be considered psychological torture.

As a humble member of this prestigious organization, I urge all of you, as writers and defenders of the principles of free thought and freedom of speech and expression, to combat the use of solitary confinement as torture, with your pen, speech and all other means. Maybe one day we will be able  to close the doors behind us to solitary confinement and no one will be sentenced to prison for criticizing and demanding reforms. I hope that day will come soon.

Greetings and Regards

Narges Mohammadi

Prison Evin, May 2016


As an independent journalist, former vice-president and spokesperson of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), and activist against the death penalty in Iran, Narges Mohammadi has long suffered from persecution at the hands of the Iranian authorities.

She has been banned from travelling abroad since 2009, and in the following year, Mohammadi was arrested from her home without a warrant and held in connection with her work with the DHRC.

In 2011, a Tehran court convicted Mohammadi of ‘acting against the national security’, ‘membership of the DHRC’ and ‘propaganda against the regime’ for her reporting on human rights violations, and she was sentenced to serve 6 years in prison (reduced from her original cumulative sentence of 11 years).  More recently, in May 2015 Mohammadi was arrested days after a fresh trial began on charges including “spreading propaganda against the system,” “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “membership of an illegal organisation whose aim is to harm national security (Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty).

Mohammadi is the mother of nine-year-old twins, and the wife of prominent journalist and activist Taghi Rahmani, who has spent a total of 17 years in prison.  They are both honorary members of Danish PEN.

After already having served 6 years, as of May, Mohammadi has now been sentenced to an additional 16 years imprisonment (of which she will serve at least 10 years, if the court’s decision is upheld).  Not only is Mohammadi a prisoner of conscience, but she also faces grave health concerns that are not being properly treated or recognized by Iranian authorities.    According to PEN International:

«Serious concerns for Mohammadi’s health persist following reports that she suffered several seizures in August and October 2015. According to reports, Mohammadi was taken to hospital on each occasion and on at least one instance she was returned to prison against medical advice. In a subsequent incident she was handcuffed to the bed for the first few days of her hospital stay.»

Through the Rapid Action Network, Norwegian PEN and the Writers in Prison Committee have appealed to the Iranian authorities for the immediate and unconditional release of Mohammadi.  Click here to read our letter.

In a May article, The Guardian commented on the international community’s reaction to Mohammadi’s imprisonment, and more specifically the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ condemnation of her 16-year sentence. To read the article, click here.

2016 China: Gao Yu

Norsk PEN fears for the safety, health, and well-being of dissident journalist Gao Yu.  We plead for the overturning of her wrongful conviction, and appeal to Chinese authorities to aid her in travel to Germany for necessary medical attention.

 

His Excellency Xi Jinping

President of the People’s Republic of China

Your Excellency,                                                                                                           Oslo, 15 April 2016

 

On behalf of the Norwegian Writers in Prison Committee and Norwegian PEN, I express grave concern at the ongoing harassment of Beijing- based veteran dissident journalist Gao Yu.

Gao Yu has been consistently, unfairly persecuted for her political opinions, and denied her right to freedom of expression. Gao (formerly the chief editor of Economics Weekly) was not only barred from publishing, but has faced multiple arrests and convictions, dating back to her coverage of student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Gao has served over six years in prison in her lifetime, and is now serving another five-year sentence for her conviction of ‘leaking state secrets abroad’.

Gao Yu was released on medical parole on 26 November 2015 following an appeal and the deterioration of her health, including several reported heart attacks while in detention. Though she will be allowed to serve the remainder of her sentence outside of prison, PEN and the WIPC express serious concern for Gao Yu’s well-being.

Gao Yu’s application to travel to Germany to seek medical attention was denied by the Chinese authorities in February 2016. According to reports, she has been left without access to her state pension and has no access to medical insurance. We urge the Chinese authorities to ensure that she is provided with adequate medical treatment, and that her access to her medical insurance is restored. We request that Gao be allowed to travel to Germany for medical treatment, for which she has already been granted a visa.

It is reported that Gao Yu was hospitalized after the Beijing Municipal Bureau of City Administration and Law Enforcement identified her garden for destruction on 31 March 2016. Gao Yu remains in hospital, though her condition has now stabilized.

On 31 March 2016, some 20 or more plainclothes police and urban management officials, known as «chengguan,» came to Gao Yu’s Beijing home without warning, destroyed her garden without a court order, and reportedly beat her son, Zhao Meng.

Norwegian PEN and the WIPC demand that the state-sponsored harassment of Gao Yu cease immediately, and we also call for the quashing of her conviction, as she was convicted and sentenced after an unfair trial for her legitimate professional activities.

Furthermore, we would like to remind the Chinese authorities of their legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a signatory to the ICCPR, China has a duty to provide for freedom of legitimate expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained, the right to a fair trial, and the right to leave one’s own country. We demand that Gao Yu’s fundamental human rights be protected and fulfilled by China immediately, and for the authorities to refrain from acts that undermine the object and purpose of the ICCPR.

Yours sincerely,

Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN

Ms Brit Bildøen                                                                       Ms Iva Gavanski Chair                                                                                             Advisor

Copy: Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Turkey: Norwegian journalist denied press accreditation and work permit renewal

Norwegian journalist Silje Kampesæter is thrown out of Turkey
Norwegian journalist Silje Kampesæter is thrown out of Turkey

London/Oslo 9 February 2016 – News that Norwegian journalist Silje Kampesæter has been denied a renewal of her work permit and press accreditation in Turkey without any explanation is a further worrying sign of the clampdown on freedom of expression in the country, PEN International and Norwegian PEN said today.

‘It’s hard to fathom why such a respected journalist should be considered persona non grata in Turkey. This raises questions about what the authorities may be trying to hide from the outside world, particularly in Diyarbakir/Amed and other parts of the south east where disturbing reports about the escalating conflict,’ said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

Kampesæter, who works for Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, opened a bureau for the paper in Istanbul in September 2015 and has shed light on Turkish domestic politics as well as reporting from the south-east of the country on the escalating tension between the authorities and the Kurdish armed group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has resulted in attacks from both sides.

´By such actions, we see how the Turkish authorities step by step are distancing themselves from the principles of human rights and freedom of expression. These are issues which the international community must urgently address in its efforts for cooperation and political stability in the region,´ said William Nygaard, President of Norwegian PEN.

PEN International has long campaigned for greater respect for freedom of expression in Turkey. In December 2015, PEN International and PEN Norway launched a joint report Surveillance Secrecy and Self Censorship: New Digital Freedom Challenges in Turkey on the declining space for freedom of expression online.  Journalist Can Dündar, a member of PEN Turkey, was arrested just before he had completed a preface to the report and is currently in prison, alongside his colleague Erdem Gül, awaiting trial on national security charges including espionage for which they are facing possible life sentences.

For more information please contact Sahar Halaimzai at PEN International: Sahar.halaimzai@pen-international.org | t. +44 (0)20 7405 0338

Hege Newth Nouri, Secretary General Norwegian PEN : hege@norskpen.no |Phone: +47 93 00 22 62

Stor bekymring for syriske kolleger

Styremedlem i Norsk PEN og forlagsredaktør i Aschehoug, Asbjørn Øverås, har nære forbindelser til syriske skribenter.  Han uttrykker nå sterk bekymring, blant annet for forfatteren, journalisten og dramatikerenSamar Yazbek.  Hun har fått publisert en dagbok fra opptøyene i Syria i arabiske medier.  Men etter et intervju hun ga til et italiensk magasin 24. april har det vært umulig å oppnå kontakt med henne.  Øverås er overbevist om at hun har fått utreisetillatelse, men er redd hun kan ha blitt arrestert.  Han forsøker nå å finne ut hva som kan ha skjedd henne gjennom hennes engelske oversetter i London.

I en forstad til Stockholm gjør den syriske poeten Faraj Bayrakdar alt han kan for å sørge for at beretninger og bilder fra revolusjonen i Syria når fram til internasjonale medier som er nektet adgang til landet.  «Jeg gråter med mitt folk, men gleder meg over det motet jeg ser», sier Bayrakdar i et intervju med Dagens Nyheter i dag (12.05).

Samtidig uttrykker PEN International stor bekymring og tar skarpt avstand fra drap, massearrestasjoner og forsvinninger blant sivile, blant dem mange journalister, bloggere og skribenter.  I en melding fra 11. mai ber PEN International om at alle borgere som har uttrykt sin mening om det syriske diktaturet gjennom fredelige demonstrasjoner, settes fri.  PEN Internationals etterforsker, Ghias Aljundi, er selv syrer og satt fenglset for sine meninger før han kom seg ut av landet.

Den engelske teksten følger her:

SYRIA: Journalists, bloggers and writers detained, fears for safety. 

PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) strongly condemns the killing, mass arrests and disappearances of civilians including several journalists, bloggers, writers and activists in the crackdown on peaceful anti-government protests which has been taking place across Syrian cities since mid-March 2011. PEN is seriously concerned for the welfare of at least five journalists and bloggers arrested for writing about the protests. All are held incommunicado and considered to be at risk of torture and ill-treatment. There are mounting concerns for their safety. PEN calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Syria for the peaceful exercise of their opinions, and urgently seeks guarantees of their safety. It reminds the Syrian authorities of their obligations to protect the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Syria is a signatory, and is alarmed at the apparent use of excessive force to suppress peaceful dissent.

According to PEN’s information, anti-government protests were sparked in mid- March 2011 and have since spread across the country. Mass arrests have been taking place and security officers have responded to the continuing protests with excessive force, using tear gas and live bullets to disperse demonstrators. Scores of civilians have reportedly been killed and many more wounded. The following journalists are amongst those believed to be currently detained:

Dorothy Parvaz: Aljazeera.net correspondent, arrested on 29 April 2011.
Mahmoud Issa: Journalist and writer, arrested on 19 April 2011.
Khaled Sid Mohand, freelance journalist for a number of news outlets including  Le Monde, arrested on 12 April 2011.
Zaid Mastu, Al-Arabiya net correspondent, arrested on 12 April 2011.
Mohamed Dibo: Journalist and writer, arrested on 12 April 2011.

With the internet and media already severely curtailed in recent years, the Syrian authorities have imposed even greater restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in reaction to recent events. Foreign reporters and correspondents have been asked to leave the country and access to any independent media is denied.

Useful links:
Amnesty International statement (25 April 2011)
Amnesty International Statement (22 April 2011)
Latest BBC news report: Syrian army tanks ‘ moving towards Hama’ 

RECOMMENDED ACTION

Please send appeals immediately to the Syrian authorities:
Condemning the widespread arrest of journalists and bloggers for reporting on the recent protests, which the WiPC believes is a clear violation of their right to freedom of expression;
Calling on the Syrian authorities to investigate allegations of torture of detainees;
Calling for the release of all those currently detained in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Syria is a signatory.

APPEALS TO:
His Excellency President Bashar al-Assad
President of the Republic
Presidential Palace
Abu Rummaneh, Al-Rashid Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax:                 + 963 11 332 3410

His Excellency Said Sammour
Minister of Interior, Ministry of Interior
Merjeh Circle
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax:                 + 963 11 222 3428
Email:                admin@civilaffair-moi.gov.sy

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Syria in your country if possible.

For further information please contact Ghias Aljundi  at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: Ghias.Aljundi@pen-international.org