Over 50 writers, editors and publishers from 23 countries gathered in Istanbul this week for the 6th Writers in Prison Committee conference of International PEN, the worldwide association of writers. At meetings focusing on PEN’s global program, the members planned the launch of a campaign against insult and criminal defamation laws under which writers and journalists are imprisoned worldwide, including under Article 301 in Turkey.
Other key issues discussed included the recent uproar over Danish cartoons, impunity, the role of internet service providers in offering information on writers, especially in China, and the pressure by the Russian government on Russian PEN.
Hosted by the Turkish Centre of International PEN March 2-4, 2006, the PEN Conference also featured a panel on “Freedom of Expression in Turkey Today” with Fatih Tas, owner of Aram Publishing House, Oya Aydin, attorney, Ismet Berkan, editor-in-chief of Radikal and Fikret Ilkiz, attorney.
Despite the recent dismissal of the case against novelist Orhan Pamuk and the progress noted in Turkey, where no writer is currently in prison, PEN members expressed concern about the large number of trials against writers and journalists accused of “insult.”
At the conference the delegates also confirmed action on behalf of the seven editors who have been detained in Algeria, Jordan, and Yemen for republishing the cartoons originally published in a Danish newspaper depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Members confirmed their commitment to work for mutual respect among peoples, at the same time insisting on the principle of freedom of expression and denouncing violence as a censor.
The conference brought colleagues from around the world together who work on cases of writers imprisoned, threatened and sometimes killed because of their writing. PEN records over 1000 cases worldwide and works actively on 150-200 of these cases.
“What is important about International PEN is that it links authors, editors and publishers from all over the world in debates and discussions which lead to a better understanding of each other. We are all worrying that the situation for freedom of expression is getting worse globally so we need solidarity now more than ever,” said Muge Sokmen, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee for Turkish PEN.
“One of the greatest values of International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee is to provide a framework to discuss issues, to come to solutions, and to leave room for various points of view without compromising our first and foremost goal of promoting freedom of expression,” said Karin Clark, Chair of International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee.
“PEN was founded on the principles of tolerance, respect among people, and the free transmission of ideas, even those that may offend. Freedom of expression is the foundation of free societies,” said Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, International Secretary of International PEN.
International PEN and the Writers in Prison Committee
International PEN, the worldwide association of writers with 141 Centres in 99 Countries, exists to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere, to fight for freedom of expression and represent the conscience of world literature.
The Writers in Prison Committee works on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide and monitors the cases of writers who have been imprisoned, tortured, threatened, attacked and killed for the peaceful practice of their professions. The WiPC campaigns to end these attacks and oppose suppression of freedom of expression wherever it occurs.
For a selection of statements from PEN Centres on the Danish cartoons issue please visit http://www.pen.org/page.php/prmID/1204