WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE
DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER
15 NOVEMBER 2006
“Criminal defamation laws and laws proscribing ‘insult’ are providing heavy-duty ammunition to governments wishing to deny citizens their right to freedom of expression. Today over a quarter of all PEN’s cases of imprisoned and prosecuted writers around the world have been charged under such repressive legislation. We urgently call for an end to this pernicious form of censorship.”
– Harold Pinter,
Nobel Laureate & Vice-President of English PEN
The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN is marking the 26th Writers in Prison Day 2006 (November 15) with a campaign in defence of nearly a hundred writers and journalists around the world who are in prison or facing custodial sentences for alleged defamation or “insult”. It calls for the repeal of laws that treat defamation as a criminal, rather than a civil, offence, and argues that the term “insult” is too vague to have any legal standing as a charge and should thus be scrapped from penal codes entirely.
In order to demonstrate how such laws are being employed to curtail freedom of expression, the Writers in Prison Committee highlights five cases of writers currently in prison or being prosecuted in China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mexico and Turkey and calls for the charges against these five, and all writers similarly threatened, to be quashed. On 15 November, and the days surrounding, PEN members will be sending letters, raising publicity and staging events in support of these and their other colleagues under attacks in other points of the globe. The five focus cases on 15 November will be:
Turkey – Hrant Dink: editor of an Armenian language newspaper sentenced to a six month suspended term and two other cases still pending on charges of insult
Ethiopia – Wesenseged Gebrekidan: journalist serving a total of two years in prison on defamation charges, and facing further trials.
Mexico – Lydia Cacho: writer on trial for defamation and under attack for her book on child pornography and prostitution
China – Yang Xiaoqing: internet journalist serving a one year sentence on extortion charges that are believed to be in retaliation for posting ‘defamatory’ articles on local corruption
Egypt – two journalists: each sentenced to one year in prison for articles “insulting” the Egyptian President.
In the six months following, PEN members will continue to focus on the issue of the use of insult and defamation laws in some countries as a means of undermining freedom of expression with a series of monthly actions focusing on different regions and aspects of this problem.
PEN Centres and members wishing to join the action on 15 November as well as the six-month campaign against insult and defamation laws should contact the International PEN headquarters below. Similarly any individual who is not a PEN member but who is interested in knowing more can refer to our web-site for updates and contact details for their local PEN Centre.
Hrant Dink, Magazine Editor
Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian-Turkish language weekly Agos magazine and a well-known commentator on Armenian affairs, has been convicted to a six-month suspended sentence on charges of ‘insult to the Turkish state’ for an article on the Armenian diaspora published in his newspaper. This is just one of a number of cases brought out against him in recent months in an apparent campaign of harassment against him. Some of the trial hearings have been marred by violent scenes inside and outside the courtrooms, instigated by nationalist activists calling for Dink to be punished.
On 7 October 2005, Hrant Dink was convicted to a six-months suspended sentence by the Sisli Court of Second Instance in Istanbul. He had been charged for an article published in Agos in which he discussed the impact on present day Armenian diaspora of the killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Ottoman army in 1915-17. Almost a century later, the issue remains a fraught one, with several countries calling on Turkey to recognise the events as a genocide. Turkey rejects this, saying that the deaths occurred during a civil war during which Turks were also killed.
The court accused Dink of “insulting Turkish identity” in articles which, Dink explains, were part of a series that focussed on Armenian identity and were “a special call to the Armenians in Diaspora who are poisoned by their anger towards the Turks”. He says that his aim is to alleviate the tensions between Turkey and Armenia. Dink appealed the conviction but it was upheld upheld on appeal on 12 July 2006. Dink is taking the case to the European Court on Human Rights. The decision led to hundreds of people signing a petition in his defence.
Still underway is another case against Hrant Dink, who is being tried alongside Serkis SEROPYAN co-editor of Agos and journalist and author Aydin ENGIN. They were charged on 23 December 2005 under Article 288 of the Penal Code (attempt to influence the Judiciary) for an article commenting on Hrant Dink’s October 2005 trial. Dink is accused for an article entitled “Is Democracy to be established with this penal code?” and Engin for his article “One should touch the justice system”. A hearing before the Sisli Penal Court on 16 May 2006 was disrupted by lawyers supporting the prosecution who heckled journalists and other observers. Some reportedly spat on the defendants. Spectators inside the courtroom shouted and threw coins at the defendant’s lawyers after the prosecuting lawyers called for the withdrawal of the judge. Journalists and lawyers were prevented from leaving the court room and required police protection on leaving, describing the events as being an attempted lynching. A hearing on 4 July 2006 saw right wing protests again demonstrating outside the court room. Defence lawyer Deniz Ceylan was punched by one of them and the hearing was disrupted by verbal abuse. The hearing was adjourned to 12 December 2006.
Yet another court case was initiated against Hrant Dink in September 2006 on charges of “insulting Turkish identity” in an interview he gave to the Reuters newsagency on 14 July. He is said to have told interviewers Daren Butler and Osman Senkul that he had no doubt that an Armenian genocide had taken place, that he would not remain silent on this issue, and had no plans to leave Turkey.
Dink, 50, is the editor of Agos, an Armenian-Turkish language weekly, established in 1996, with a circulation of around 6,000. Agos means ‘ploughed furrow’, and was chosen by its founders for its association with growth and fertility. In 2001, Agos was suspended. He is a well-known commentator on Turkish-Armenian affairs who is often invited abroad to speak on how relations can be improved.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Fax: +90 312 417 0476
Foreign Minister and State Minister for Human Rights
Mr Abdullah Gül
Office of the Prime Minister
Fax: +90 312 287 8811
From Hrant Dink’s presentation to the International Publisher’s Association/International PEN panel discussion on Freedom of Expression in Turkey held at the UN Commission on Human Rights April 2004
“….Turkey is making special efforts within the framework of the “Struggle Against Unfounded Armenian Claims” against the discourse and studies presented by Armenian diaspora about “Armenian Genocide”. An important part of these efforts is devoted to works in schools. For this purpose, a new curriculum has been prepared focusing on the unfoundedness of Armenian claims. Text books prepared about this issue will be distributed in our schools starting at the next school year . Meanwhile, the Ministry of National Education has sent to all schools, including Armenian ones, a circular letter … demanding that schools organise conferences and composition competitions dealing with the struggle against “unfounded Armenian Genocide claims”. Human rights associations … have brought suits at the Supreme Council stating that this circular letter is contrary to international agreements and that it can lead to feelings of hostility among children, and demanded that it be annulled and not be executed. But the Ministry did not take back the circular letter.
This is the wrong attitude. It leads generations to be raised as enemies to each other by dictating to children one-sided information about a subject about which even adults have not agreed among themselves. In fact, school should be the place where information is questioned, not dictated. “
In Ethiopia, you don’t even have to be the author of allegedly defamatory comments to find yourself in prison. Wesenseged Gebrekidan was arrested in November 2005 and convicted of “criminal defamation” a month later even though he was merely the editor of the issue of the newspaper that contained an apparently defamatory article.
Gebrekidan’s eight-month sentence stemmed from an opinion piece that appeared in Ethiop in 2002 regarding former diplomat Habtemariam Seyoum. In the column Seyoum was censured for comments he had made in praise of the diplomatic strategy Ethiopia had adopted towards their neighbours Eritrea. Such criticism was deemed sufficiently compelling evidence to find the editor guilty under Ethiopia’s catch-all defamation laws.
Of course, had this been the only charge against Gebrekidan, he would have been freed in July having served his sentence. However, he remains in prison in Addis Ababa because he has since been condemned to sixteen months’ imprisonment after being found guilty of a further charge of “criminal defamation”. The sentence, handed down in April 2006, stemmed from a 2002 Ethiop article in which the editor of Abyotawi Democracy, a publication owned by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), was deemed to have been defamed.
Gebrekidan’s troubles do not end there. Unlike in many other countries where defamation laws are limited to individuals, in Ethiopia, the presidency, government departments and state institutions can all be defamed. As a result, Gebrekidan faces no fewer than five further “criminal defamation” charges for articles criticising the Ministry of Justice and the Ethiopian armed forces.
Gebrekidan, who by the time of his imprisonment had moved from the editorship of Ethiop to that of the weekly Addis Zena, also faces a charge of “treason” for allegedly inciting genocide. This is in connection with the reporting of the November 2005 clashes between security forces and demonstrators protesting against supposed irregularities in the parliamentary elections earlier in the year. The spurious grounds for the charge of “genocide” include “allegations of causing fear and harm to an ethnic group, and harming members of the Tigrayan-led ruling party by excluding them from social events and funerals”. The trial opened on 23 February 2006.
The publisher of Addis Zena, Fassil Yenealem – who is also in prison facing a charge of “treason” – stated earlier this year: “We’re not against this government. It is through this government that we began to write. But when the government sees people starting to demand more democracy, freedom of expression, and development, they think it’s the fault of the press.”
H.E. Ato Meles Zenawi
Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Office of the Prime Minister
P.O. Box 1031
Please also send a copy of your letter to the Ethiopian representative in your country.
Writing (Opinion piece without byline in Addis Zena – cited as one of the reasons why Gebrekidan is facing a charge of “treason”)
Addis Zena, Sept. 19, 2005: “The people of Ethiopia have clearly been robbed of their voices. A party or a government that conspired to rob the voice of its own people should never be given legitimacy. Even if it wants to stay in power, the people would only chant ‘Thief! Thief!’ and would not let it happen. And because the electoral board has been the main organizer and accomplice of such robbery, it should be denounced and should lose its credibility…
“Opposition parties must provide wise leadership in recovering the voice of the people from the party that has stolen it in order to stay in power.”
author, poet, novelist, newspaper columnist
A charge of “defamation” was brought against Lydia Cacho in October 2005 by José Camel Nacif Borge, a textile businessman. Nacif is cited in Cacho’s book Los Demonios del Edén: el poder detrás de la pornografía (The Demons of Eden: the power behind pornography) as having connections with Jean Succar Kuri, then detained in the United States and accused of heading up a child pornography and prostitution network (he has since been extradited to Mexico to stand trial).
Although she lives in the state of Quintana Roo, the legal action against Cacho (43) was taken in the state of Puebla. On 16 December 2005, Cacho was detained by Puebla state judicial officers in Cancún, Quintana Roo. The officers apparently arrested her in her office, bundled her into a vehicle at gunpoint and drove her to Puebla, a journey of approximately twenty hours. She was released from San Miguel State Prison the following day on bail of 106,000 pesos (US$9,900), pending trial. Cacho has questioned the legality of officials from Puebla making an arrest in Quintana Roo before steps had been taken to ensure that she was aware of the charges brought against her.
Nacif does not deny knowing Succar Kuri but claims that his reputation has suffered as a result of Cacho’s book making his relationship with him common knowledge. Succar Kuri has since publicly declared that Nacif has paid US$300,000 towards his legal costs.
Over the few months since the publication of the book, Cacho has received the protection of bodyguards provided by the General Procurator’s Office on account of the repeated death threats she has received. A lawyer she was employing also reportedly received death threats from the governor of Puebla, Mario Marín and dropped the case.
In February 2006, two investigative `journalists revealed the contents of a tape recording of an apparent telephone conversation between José Camel Nacif Borge, Mario Marín, and the governor of Chiapas, Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía, in which the businessman thanks the governors for their role in having Lydia Cacho arrested. Nacif is also apparently heard voicing the desire that Cacho might be sexually abused whilst in detention. On 21 February, the Chamber of Deputies asked the Supreme Court to investigate the matter. The case is apparently only the third in Mexican history in which the Supreme Court has investigated state violence against a member of the general public.
In the meantime, Lydia Cacho is in the invidious position of facing mounting legal costs and a possible four-year sentence if convicted of telling the truth.
Defamation laws in Mexico
Absurdly, under Mexican law, a person can be found guilty of “defamation” even if they can prove that what they have written is true. However, this year, a federal law was passed decriminalising “defamation”. Although this has come into effect in the Federal District of Mexico City, the bill has yet to be approved by congresses in the other 32 states. Indeed, in 2004, the state of Chiapas actually raised penalties for “defamation” and “libel” from between two and five years to between three and nine years.
Lic. Vicente Fox Quesada
Presidente de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos,
Palacio Nacional Patio de Honor
06067, Distrito Federal
Fax : +52 55 5277 2376
Internal Affairs Minister
Carlos María Abascal Carranza
Secretario de Gobernación,
Secretaría de Gobernación,
Bucareli No. 99
06600 Distrito Federal
Sample of Writing by Lydia Cacho
Los demonios del edén – El poder que protege a la pornografía infantil
(The Demons of Eden – The power that protects the child pornography [industry])
Published by Grijalbo in 2005
The Demons of Eden
Writing or reading a book on the abuse and trade of children is neither easy nor enjoyable. Nevertheless, it is more dangerous for society to remain silent about this phenomenon. Whilst society and the State looks on, thousands of children are victims of dealers who turn them into sexual objects to be traded and enjoyed by millions of men who find in child pornography and the sexual abuse of children a thing of delight which has no ethical repercussions.
This is not a story of a dirty old man who discovers he likes to have sex with little girls of five years of age or younger. Although some passages, in which the victims speak, are deeply painful, the courage and the clarity of the witnesses and specialists allow us to see the light at the end of the tunnel and understand better the implications of this complicity of silence with regard to violence and sexual exploitation.
The challenge of journalism is to tell human stories in order to understand better the world around us. In this sense The Demons of Eden fulfils this purpose: to reveal the twilight world that hundreds of mothers, fathers and children – who never dreamt that they could fall victim to a pederast, a pornographist or a rapist – face every day without even knowing it.
Journalist Yang Xiaoqing was sentenced on 15 June 2006 on extortion charges for his reporting on official corruption. He was accused of posting ‘defamatory’ articles on ‘illegal’ websites as part of an alleged attempt to blackmail local officials. Yang is known for his writings in support of minorities and his strong sense of social justice. Hundreds of local residents gathered at the Longhui County Court on the day of the trial to support thirty-seven-old Yang and protest his sentence.
Yang Xiaoqing, a reporter with the Zhongguo Chanjing Xinwenbao (China Industrial Economy News), was arrested by the Public Security Bureau of Longhui County, Hunan Province, on 22 January 2006 after investigating and reporting the alleged corruption of Longhui County officials. According to Yang’s wife Gong Jie, Yang received threats and intimidation by local officials prior to his arrest, and had been in hiding for several months.
Yang was accused of posting defamatory articles on the Internet after failing to extort up to 800,000 Yuan (US$100,000) from Longhui County officials. His detention is thought to be linked to two articles written in May 2005 alleging corruption in the sale of a state-owned company by county officials. According to his lawyer, the authorities have failed to produce any evidence to support the charges against him, which he believes are fabricated.
Yang Xiaoqing is held at the Longhui County Detention Centre, Hunan Province, where his health is said to have deteriorated significantly since his detention. He is said to have been diagnosed with Hepatitis B, and there are also reports that he is denied treatment for an undiagnosed growth that could be malignant.
Yang’s wife, Gong Jie, explained during an interview with The Epoch Times, “…Mr. Yang is an innocent and honest reporter who is being retaliated against for exposing the corruption of Longhui County officials of Hunan Province. We are determined to file an appeal to the higher court. And if that doesn’t work, we will continue on to the Central court.”
The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN protests the one-year prison sentence handed down to journalist Yang Xiaoqing on 15 June 2006 on extortion charges for his reporting on official corruption. International PEN considers journalist Yang Xiaoqing to be detained in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China became a signatory in 1998, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
His Excellency Hu Jintao
President of the People’s Republic of China
Ibrahim Issa and
Editor and Journalist
Ibrahim Issa and Sahar Zaki, editor and journalist respectively of the opposition weekly Al-Dustur, were each sentenced to one year in prison on 26 June 2006 by a court in the village of Al-Warrack, Sahar Zakinear Cairo, for ‘insulting the President’ and ‘spreading false or tendentious rumours’. They were charged after they reported on a legal case against President Mubarek. The charges were brought by the so-called ‘ordinary people of al-Warrak’, who were reportedly offended by an article published in Al-Dustur on 25 April 2005. The article in question reported on a lawsuit brought by a man from Al-Warrak who accused President Mubarak of unconstitutional conduct and ‘wasting foreign aid’ during the privatisation of state-owned companies. The journalists remain free on bail pending appeal.
Al Dustur is well known for its outspoken criticism of the government, and Ibrahim Issa has been banned from publishing many times. Al Dustur was banned in February 1998 after it published a letter allegedly from the armed Islamist group the Gama’a Islamiyya. Issa tried unsuccessfully to register a new newspaper nine times over the next seven years, until the ban on Al Dustur was finally lifted in 2005 after Issa was approached to edit the newspaper of the opposition party Al-Ghad. Issa is also a novelist, and his novel Maqtal Al-Rajul Al-Kabir (The Assassination of the Big Man) was banned in 1999.
Article 179 of Egypt’s Penal Code criminalises “insulting the president”, and Article 102 (bis) allows for the detention of ‘whoever deliberately diffuses news, information/data, or false or tendatious rumouors, or propogates exciting publicity, if this is liable to disturb public security, spread horror among the people, or cause harm or damage to the public interest’. In February 2004 President Hosni Mubarak pledged to amend the 1996 Press Law and abolish prison sentences for press offenses, but to date no action has been taken to this effect and there are currently at least seven cases known to PEN of journalists facing prison sentences in Egypt for their reporting.
International PEN Writers in Prison Committee protests the prison sentence handed down to to journalists Ibrahim Issa and Sahar Zaki, and reminds President Mubarak of his pledge to end the imprisonment of journalists for press offenses in February 2004. PEN urges that immediate action is taken to repeal the laws that criminalise defamation in Egypt.
His Excellency Mohammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Republic of Egypt
Fax: +202 390 199