2017: Russia: Natalya Sharina

Natalya Sharina, the director of the Library of Ukranian Literature in Moscow, has been charged with “inciting ethnic hatred and humiliating human dignity,” and has been under house arrest since 2015. The Norwegian Library Association and Norwegian PEN have sent an appeal to Russian authorities calling for he release.

 

Embassy of the Russian Federation
Drammensveien 74
0244 OSLO

Oslo, 31st  January 2017

 

Your Excellencies,


We write to you as the chair of the committee of freedom of expression in the Norwegian Library Association (NLA) and the chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of Norwegian PEN.


Natalya Sharina, Director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow, has now been under house arrest for more than a year. 
The Norwegian Library Association and the Norwegian PEN organization remains extremely concerned over the treatment of Sharina. She was arrested and placed under house arrest in October 2015 after being accused of inciting hatred or animosity towards a social group by allegedly holding banned books in the Library.  Sharina was subsequently arrested, and placed under house arrest. The Court has now extended her house arrest until 28 April 2017, but allowed Natalya Sharina to have daily walks in fresh air for two hours.


We express our deepest concerns at the continued imprisonment of Sharina, and call for her immediate and unconditional release if she is held – as we believe is very likely to be the case – solely for the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression. 
We believe that the treatment of the Library of Ukrainian Literature, and its staff – and in particular Natalya Sharina – is completely disproportionate and unnecessary. As such it is an attack on democracy, learning and culture.


Libraries and librarians have a key role in supporting human rights, including freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, and an attack on libraries or librarians is an attack on democracy and culture.


We are strongly committed to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:


Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


The Norwegian Library Association and the Norwegian PEN 
calls upon the Russian officials to release Natalya Sharina, in line with Russia’s obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression.

 

Brit Bildøen,                                                 Ingeborg Rygh Hjorthen,

 

Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee,          Chair of the committee of freedom of expression,

Norwegian PEN                                               Norwegian Library Association

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

Sotsji-OL: Ytringsfriheten skjøvet ut i kulden!

Sochi Winter Olympics Campaign: Out in the Cold

The Winter Olympic Games will take place Sochi, Russia on 7th – 23rd February, 2014.

During the Games, PEN will be protesting the draconian restrictions placed on free expression in Russia since President Vladimir Putin returned to office in May 2012.

In the last 18 months, Russian lawmakers have signed a number of laws curtailing free speech and dissent. Three laws specifically place a choke hold on the right to express oneself freely, and pose a particular threat to our fellow writers, journalists and bloggers:

1.               In June 2013, the now-infamous gay ‘propaganda’ law was passed. This law prohibits the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors,” meaning that any activity that can be construed as promoting the non-heterosexual lifestyle, including the holding of LGBT rallies, or the “promotion of denial of traditional family values among minors,” is now banned. Russian citizens violating this law face being fined; foreigners face deportation. Since the introduction of this law, LGBT groups have reported an increase in attacks on gay people and Russia’s media watchdog has already targeted one newspaper, Molodoi Dalnevostochnik, for ‘promoting’ homosexuality in its coverage of the firing of a gay school teacher.

2.               The ‘blasphemy’ law was also passed in June 2013. This law criminalizes ‘religious insult’ and provides punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of US$ 16,000. The law is widely seen as a heavy-handed attempt to deter stunts similar to the one carried out by the feminist punk group Pussy Riot, who performed their ‘punk prayer’ inside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February 2012.

3.               Defamation was re-criminalised in July 2012. Having previously been de-criminalised in 2011 under former President Dmitry Medvedev, it was made a crime once again when Putin returned to the presidency. This law provides cripplingly harsh fines of up to US$153,000 for violations and threatens to push small media outlets into self-censorship for fear of risking financial ruin.

In December 2013, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Russian constitution, the State Duma granted an amnesty to PEN cases and jailed members of Pussy Riot,  Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alekhina. Although welcome, this only reduced their harsh two-year prison sentences by a number of weeks, and it should not distract us from the fact that the threat to the right to express oneself freely has greatly increased since Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were convicted of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ in August 2012.

During the Winter Games at Sochi, PEN will be calling for the repeal of the troika of laws that restrict free expression in Russia: the gay ‘propaganda’ law, the blasphemy law and criminal defamation

Sochi Winter Olympics Campaign: Out in the Cold

The Winter Olympic Games will take place Sochi, Russia on 7th – 23rd February, 2014.

During the Games, PEN will be protesting the draconian restrictions placed on free expression in Russia since President Vladimir Putin returned to office in May 2012.

In the last 18 months, Russian lawmakers have signed a number of laws curtailing free speech and dissent. Three laws specifically place a choke hold on the right to express oneself freely, and pose a particular threat to our fellow writers, journalists and bloggers:

1.               In June 2013, the now-infamous gay ‘propaganda’ law was passed. This law prohibits the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors,” meaning that any activity that can be construed as promoting the non-heterosexual lifestyle, including the holding of LGBT rallies, or the “promotion of denial of traditional family values among minors,” is now banned. Russian citizens violating this law face being fined; foreigners face deportation. Since the introduction of this law, LGBT groups have reported an increase in attacks on gay people and Russia’s media watchdog has already targeted one newspaper, Molodoi Dalnevostochnik, for ‘promoting’ homosexuality in its coverage of the firing of a gay school teacher.

2.               The ‘blasphemy’ law was also passed in June 2013. This law criminalizes ‘religious insult’ and provides punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of US$ 16,000. The law is widely seen as a heavy-handed attempt to deter stunts similar to the one carried out by the feminist punk group Pussy Riot, who performed their ‘punk prayer’ inside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February 2012.

3.               Defamation was re-criminalised in July 2012. Having previously been de-criminalised in 2011 under former President Dmitry Medvedev, it was made a crime once again when Putin returned to the presidency. This law provides cripplingly harsh fines of up to US$153,000 for violations and threatens to push small media outlets into self-censorship for fear of risking financial ruin.

In December 2013, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Russian constitution, the State Duma granted an amnesty to PEN cases and jailed members of Pussy Riot,  Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alekhina. Although welcome, this only reduced their harsh two-year prison sentences by a number of weeks, and it should not distract us from the fact that the threat to the right to express oneself freely has greatly increased since Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were convicted of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ in August 2012.

During the Winter Games at Sochi, PEN will be calling for the repeal of the troika of laws that restrict free expression in Russia: the gay ‘propaganda’ law, the blasphemy law and criminal defamation.

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.

 

Demonstrasjoner over hele verden mot Pussy Riot-dom

PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee is shocked at the two year prison sentence handed down today to the three members of the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samusevich under Article 213 of the Russian Criminal Code. The sentence was read today at the Khamovnichesky Court in Moscow.

The three women had been held in custody since early March with their trial not beginning until July.

During the trial the women were locked in a bulletproof cage and according to their lawyers were not giving food or water for long periods of time. The prosecution and its witnesses argued that the bands act had betrayed a deep hatred of all Orthodox Christians and was not motivated not by their outrage at the Putin regime, as they woman had stated.

PEN International monitored the trial where the defence was repeatedly denied the right to make objections, to call their witnesses and at times even to speak. The repressive nature of this judicial process is of increasing concern for PEN International, further highlighting the ongoing repression of free speech in Russia.

The decision comes nearly 6 months after the three women were taken into custody and charged with “hooliganism” motivated by religious hatred, an offence carrying a maximum seven-year term. On 21 February the three women walked into the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow wearing colourful masks and performed a song with the aim of highlighting the close relationship between the Orthodox Church and Putin.

The women were arrested two weeks later.

According to reports and videos of the event, there was no violence or damage to the premises, and PEN International believes that the women have been treated particularly severely because of the lyrics of the song they performed and is composed in the form of a supplication or intercession prayer, in this case addressed to the Virgin Mary.

The heavy prison sentence announced today, which has caused widespread outrage, is huge blow for freedom of expression in Russia and highlight the growing trend of oppression in the country.

For more information on the case see our RAN alert’s:

http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/russia-pussy-riot-trial-closes-%E2%80%93-verdict-due-17-august/

PEN International published a translation of their “punk prayer” Punk Moleben and its context:

http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/russia-pussy-riot-punk-moleben-put-putin-away/

PEN Russia’s open letter to Vladimir Putin in support of Pussy Riot members:

http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/pen-russia-protests-pussy-riot-detentions/

 

Appeals

Please send letters

– Expressing shock at the two year sentences served against Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina
Samusevich
– Adding that long term imprisonment for an action that did not cause physical damage to any person, building or property  would in other circumstances have resulted in a lesser punishment, caution or financial penalty ;
– Pointing out that the harsh sentence is clearly in retaliation for the lyrics of the song performed by Pussy Riot members, containing language that is strongly critical of the Church and of President Putin in particular, and is this in breach of  international conventions, specifically Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Russia is a signatory;

Therefore calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the three women.

Address:
You can send messages to President Putin on the Kremlin website
http://eng.letters.kremlin.ru/

Or by mail:
President Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
23, Ilyinka Street,
Moscow, 103132
Russia

You may find that the Russian ambassador in your own country is more likely to respond to your appeals, so we recommend that you either write to him or her directly or send a copy of your appeal.

Pussy Riot sentence: Norwegian singer cancelles concert in Russian embassy

Norwegian singer Per Vollestad, known from several musical projects, will not sing for the Russian embassy in Oslo. He cancels a previous engagement in protest against the sentence received by the girls in the Russian punk band Pussy Riot –  two years in prison for having sung songs where they are critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and because the concert was held in a church.

«I was supposed to sing Edvard Grieg in the embassy. Grieg was a man who was very concerned about freedom of speech and it would be completely wrong for me to perform his songs in such a setting. Then I had to either protest against the concert, and I think that would be wrong, or I had to cancel the concert, which I did», he said.

Vollestad emphasizes that one may disagree with the form Pussy Riot used by, among other things, playing such a concert in a church, but that the fact that they get two years in prison and that freedom of expression is being silenced, can not be tolerated.

«Musicians should also engage more in what goes on in the international community», he said.

Vollestad also says that it was a difficult decision to make, since he has been several times in Russia and will later go back in order to give concerts in our great neighbor country in the east.

2012: Russia: Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samusevich

President Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
23, Ilyinka Street
Moscow, 103132
Russia

18th May 2012

Your excellency,

The non-political association of writers, PEN International, is protesting the detention of Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samusevich, pointing out that they are being treated particularly harshly because of the contents of the song lyrics.

PEN International is referring to Russia’s obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Russia, and which protects the right to freedom of expression; and we are further referring to the fact that the women will be held for more than three months without trial, this time breaching Article 9 of the ICCPR that guarantees the right not to be held in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods of time.

Thanking you in advance.

Yours sincerely,

Fredrik Giertsen
member Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN
Wergelandsveien 29
0167 Oslo
Norway

Copy to:
Den Russiske Føderasjons ambassade
Drammensveien 74
0244 Oslo

2009: Russia: Natasha Estemirova 2

Mr Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
Kremlin
Moscow
Russia
Fax: +7 495 206 5173 / 206 6277
Email: president@gov.ru

Mr Chaika Yuri Yakovlevich
Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
Ishaya Dmitrovka 1 a GSP e
Moscow 12599 3
Russia
Fax+7 495 292 88 48

Your Excellency,

As a member of Writers in Prison Committee, Norwegian PEN, I am deeply shocked and outraged by the murder of Natasha Estemirova 16 July 2009 clearly in retaliation for her investigations into human rights abuses in Chechnya.

In 2007 the first annual Anna Politkovskaya Award was given to Natasha Estemirova for her courage in seeking and telling the truth about the torture, disappearances and murders of civilians in the war in Chechnya.

I welcome President Medvedev´s promise that there will be an immediate investigation into her murder, and that this will be carried out fully and impartially, and that those responsible be brought to justice. And I call on the Russian Government to bring to justice the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, for whose murder, three years on, justice has not been done.

Confident that you, Your Excellency, will take action accordingly, I remain,

Yours sincerely,

Trine Kleven
Leader of Writers in Prison Committee, Norwegian PEN

COPIES TO:
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo

Russian Embassy
Drammensveien 74, 0244 Oslo
rembassy@online.no
Tel., Fax: tel.: (+47) 22 55 32 78; 22 44 06 08
fax: (+47) 22 55 00 70

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