All posts by Hege Newth

UK: Release WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange

Today, on Julian Assange’s 49th birthday, PEN Norway with the Courage Foundation, PEN International, English PEN, German PEN, PEN Melbourne, PEN Perth, Sydney PEN and other civil society organisations sent an open letter calling for the release of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.

Photo by Babak Fakhamzadeh CC BY 2.0

Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP
Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor
Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France

CC: Rt Hon Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

3 July 2020

Dear Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP,

On 8 June 2020, responding to a question in the House of Lords about the United Kingdom’s stance regarding the protection of journalists and press freedoms, Minister of State Lord Ahmad
of Wimbledon said, “Media freedom is vital to open societies. Journalists must be able to investigate and report without undue interference”.

We, the undersigned, agree with this statement and call on the UK government to uphold its commitment to press freedom in its own country. At the time of Lord Ahmad’s remarks,
WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange had been imprisoned on remand in the high-security HMP Belmarsh for more than a year as he faces extradition to the United States on charges of publishing. We call on the UK government to release Mr Assange from prison immediately and to block his extradition to the US.

The US government has indicted Mr Assange on 18 counts for obtaining, possessing, conspiring to publish and for publishing classified information. The indictment contains 17 counts under the
Espionage Act of 1917 and one charge of conspiring (with a source) to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which uses Espionage Act language. This is the first ever use of such charges for the publication of truthful information in the public interest, and it represents a gravely dangerous attempt to criminalise journalist-source communications and the publication by journalists of classified information, regardless of the newsworthiness of the information and in complete disregard of the public’s right to know.

On 24 June 2020, the US Department of Justice issued a second superseding indictment against Mr Assange, adding no new charges but expanding on the charge for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. This new indictment employs a selective and misleading narrative in an attempt to portray Mr Assange’s actions as nefarious and conspiratorial rather than as contributions to public interest reporting.

The charges against Mr Assange carry a potential maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Sending Mr Assange to the US, where a conviction is a near certainty, is tantamount to a death sentence.

This is an unprecedented escalation of an already disturbing assault on journalism in the US, where President Donald Trump has referred to the news media as the “enemy of the people”.
Whereas previous presidents have prosecuted whistleblowers and other journalistic sources under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information, the Trump Administration has taken the further step of going after the publisher.

Mr Assange himself has been persecuted for publishing for nearly a decade. In 2012, with fears of a US prosecution that later proved prescient, Mr Assange sought and was granted asylum from the government of Ecuador, and he entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Because the UK declined to guarantee Mr Assange wouldn’t be extradited to the US, the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Mr Assange’s detention was indeed arbitrary and called on the UK to “immediately [allow] Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to walk free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London”.

President Obama’s administration prosecuted US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning for disclosing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks on the US’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as State Department cables and files on inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison. But the administration, which had empanelled a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks as early as 2010, explicitly decided not to prosecute Mr Assange due to what it termed the “New York Times problem.” As the Washington Post explained in November 2013, “If the Justice Department indicted Assange, it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who published classified material, including The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper”.

When President Trump came to power, then-Attorney General of the US Jeff Sessions announced that prosecuting Assange would be a “priority”, despite the fact that no new evidence or information had come to light in the case. In April 2017, in a startling speech against
WikiLeaks’ constitutional right to publish, then-CIA director Mike Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service” and said, “Julian Assange has no First Amendment

On 11 April 2019, Ecuador illegally terminated Mr Assange’s diplomatic asylum in violation of the Geneva Refugee Convention and invited the British police into their embassy, where he was
immediately arrested at the request of the US. Mr Assange served a staggering 50 weeks in prison for a bail violation, but when that sentence ended in September 2019, he was not released.
Mr Assange continues to be detained at HMP Belmarsh, now solely at the behest of the US.
Even before the lockdown initiated by the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Assange has been held in conditions approaching solitary confinement, confined to his cell more than 22 hours a day. Now
under containment measures, Mr Assange is even more isolated, and he hasn’t seen his own children in several months. Furthermore, Mr Assange has been allowed extremely limited access to his lawyers and documents, severely hampering his ability to participate in his own legal defence. Following a visit to HMP Belmarsh accompanied by medical doctors in May 2019, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer determined that Mr Assange had endured psychological torture.

Mr Assange’s extradition hearing, which commenced for one week in February 2020 and is scheduled to continue for three more weeks, is set to resume in September. But the coronavirus, which has reportedly already killed at least one fellow inmate at HMP Belmarsh and which continues to spread through prisons at an alarming rate, puts the health and well-being of Mr Assange, who suffers from a chronic lung condition that makes him especially vulnerable to Covid-19, at serious risk.

The continued persecution of Mr Assange is contributing to a deterioration of press freedom in the UK and is serving to tarnish the UK’s international image. Reporters Without Borders cited the disproportionate sentencing of Mr Assange to 50 weeks in prison for breaking bail, the Home Office’s decision to greenlight the US extradition request, and Mr Assange’s continued detention as factors in the UK’s decline in ranking to 35th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

We call on the UK government to release Mr Assange without further delay and block his extradition to the US – a measure that could save Mr Assange’s life and preserve the press freedom that the UK has committed to championing globally.

Nathan Fuller, Executive Director, Courage Foundation
Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Anthony Bellanger, General Secretary – International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Archie Law, Chair Sydney Peace Foundation
Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International
Christine McKenzie, President, PEN Melbourne
Daniel Gorman, Director, English PEN
Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President, PEN Norway
Lasantha De Silva, Freed Media Movement
Marcus Strom, President, MEAA Media, Australia
Mark Isaacs, President of PEN International Sydney
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
Mousa Rimawi, Director, MADA – the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms
Naomi Colvin, UK/Ireland Programme Director, Blueprint for Free Speech
Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Ralf Nestmeyer, Vice President, German PEN
Rev Tim Costello AO, Director of Ethical Voice
Robert Wood, Chair, PEN Perth
Ruth Smeeth, Chief Executive Officer, Index on Censorship
Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia, ARTICLE 19
Silkie Carlo, Director, Big Brother Watch
William Horsley, Media Freedom Representative, Association of European Journalists
Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

#freejulianassange #dontextraditeassange #happybirthdayjulian

Assange kan få 175 år i fengsel – hvem blir den neste?

Julian Assange må løslates fra Belmarsh fengsel.

Av Rune Ottosen, leder av Norsk PENs Varslerutvalg

Det amerikanske Justisdepartementet utvidet 24. juni tiltalen mot Julian Assange. Det er ingen nye punkter utover de 18 punktene som lå i den opprinnelige tiltalen. Det nye er at påstanden om at Assange skal ha gjort seg skyldig i lovstridig hacking konkretiseres ytterligere. Assange anklages nå blant annet for å ha prøvd å rekruttere hackere fra gruppen “Anonymous” under konferanser i Europa og Asia. Hvis man leser den nye tiltalen kommer det fram at et av punktene omfatter en konferanse i Malaysia der han oppfordret hackere til å avdekke krigsforbrytelser og brudd på menneskerettighetene. Tenk over dette: En australsk statsborger risikerer lang fengselsstraff i USA, blant annet for noe han har sagt på en konferanse i et tredje land.

Det kan være grunn til å reflektere over hvorfor disse utvidelsene kommer nå og hva de konkret innebærer. Norsk PEN mener at den pågående kampen mot utlevering av Julian Assange fra Storbritannia til USA må sees i sammenheng med en pågående kamp mot press på ytringsfriheten i global målestokk. Grunnleggeren av WikiLeaks risikerer 175 års fengsel for å ha publisert dokumentasjon om krigsforbrytelser i Irak og Afghanistan i 2010. Assanges advokat Barry Pollack sier til nyhetsbyrået AP at amerikanske myndigheters jakt på Assange utgjør en trussel mot journalister over hele verden, og mot “folkets rett til å få vite” og at den utvidete tiltalen ikke representerer noe prinsipielt nytt. Vår vurdering er at den utvidete siktelsen kan være uttrykk for at kampen for å få utlevert Assange er på defensiven og at stadig flere ser at trussel om lang fengselsstraff for Assange er en trussel mot retten til avslørende, kritisk journalistikk.

Det har gått de fleste nyhetsmedier i Norge hus forbi at Europarådets parlamentarikerforsamling 28. januar vedtok en resolusjon der det slås fast at en utlevering av Assange vil skape en farlig presedens i kampen for sikkerhet for journalister.

Medlemstatene oppfordres til å reagere og viser til en rapport fra FNs spesialrapportør mot tortur, Finn Melzer fra 1. november 2019 som konkluderer med at Assange umiddelbart må løslates. Ingjerd Schou fra Høyre og Lise Chrisophersen fra Arbeiderpartiet var til stede og stemte for resolusjonen. Forplikter ikke dette det norske Stortinget til å gripe fatt i denne alvorlige situasjonen? Dette vedtaket skjedde før rettssaken mot Assange i februar. Det vakte forbausende liten oppmerksomhet i norske medier at Assange ble behandlet på en uverdig måte. Han var plassert bakerst i lokalene i et glassbur uten mulighet til normal kommunikasjon med sine advokater. Han ble påsatt håndjern ut inn av rettslokalene og kroppsvisitert på en måte som lignet på ren trakassering. Dette vet vi fordi vi var der. Norsk PEN følger saken nøye og vil være til stede når rettssaken fortsetter i september.

Siden februar har Belmarsh-fengslet blitt hardt rammet av corona-viruset. Assange har en kronisk lungesykdom og burde vært løslatt av medisinske grunner. Frykt for coronasmitte har bidratt til at han ikke får ha normal kontakt med sine advokater og hindres i normale saksforberedelser.

Nils Melzer har anklaget svenske domstoler for å ha konspirert med britisk rettsvesen for å holde overgrepsanklagen mot Assange gående i ni år uten tiltale. Saken ble endelig henlagt i fjor høst. Hverken svenske eller norske medier har fanget opp det viktige nyhetspoenget at Melzer som FN-representant i sterke ordelag anklager svenske myndigheter for å ha fabrikkert bevis i saken mot Assange. Svenske myndigheter eneste svar er at de ikke kan blande seg inn i domstolens arbeide.

Til dette har Melzers replisert at i så fall må Sverige trekke seg fra FNs torturkonvensjon som forplikter regjeringer til å gripe inn mot tortur.  Ingen toneangivende medier har  utfordret svenske myndigheter mot de oppsiktsvekkende anklagene.. Den svenske presseveteranen og redaktøren Arne Ruth har tatt initiativ til et opprop til støtte for Assange. Han har i brev (se vedlegg) til den svenske utenriksministeren krevet at svenske myndigheter svarer på den alvorlige kritikken og han kritiserer svenske medier for selvsensur ved ikke å ha omtalt de alvorlige beskyldningene fra en FN-talsmann. Han har uttalt at det nå må press fra utlandet til for å få oppmerksomhet rundt saken i svensk offentlighet. Kanskje norske journalister kan bidra til dette presset?

I den før omtalte uttalelsen fra Europarådets parlamentarikere blir det uttrykt bekymring for varsleres vilkår i denne vanskelige tiden for pressefriheten. Norske medier har i det siste bidratt til å sette kritisk søkelys på angrepet på journalister i USA. Fysiske angrep fra amerikansk politi og verbale angrep fra president Trump er et viktig bakteppe når vi skal forstå den kritiske situasjonen som møter Assange ved en eventuell utlevering. Han blir tiltalt etter spionparagrafen i en spesialdomstol uten normale rettssikkerhetsgarantier. Bør ikke dette bekymre norske medier? Hvem blir den neste? Presidenten har gjennom sine nylige angrep og trusler mot Den internasjonale straffedomstolen og deres ansatte vist en skremmende mangel på respekt for internasjonale menneskerettigheter.

Norsk PEN mener at vi ikke kan forholde oss passive og se på at Assange blir utlevert til et land der rettsikkerheten er under press, der han risikerer en lang fengselsstraff for å ha avdekket krigsforbrytelser og menneskerettighetsbrudd. Vi håper norske medier er av samme oppfatning.

Artikkelen ble publisert på Medier24, 1. juli 2020.

En mer inkluderende samfunnsdebatt — ja, takk!

Av Nancy Herz, leder Ungdommens ytringsfrihetsråd.

Nancy Herz skal lede Ungdommens ytringsfrihetsråd. Foto: Privat

Det var tilfeldigheter som fikk meg til å sende inn mitt første innlegg til lokalavisen. Siden det første innlegget i Haugesunds Avis i 2013 har jeg skrevet flere titalls tekster i både lokale og nasjonale medier. Det å vite at noen leste og lyttet motiverte meg til å skrive mer, og det samme gjorde viten om at i andre land risikerer noen livet for å gjøre det samme.

I Norge risikerer vi ikke fengsel eller dødsstraff for å bruke stemmen vår, men det er likevel begrensninger som gjør at noen deltar i større grad enn andre. En av disse begrensningene er netthets, trusler og sjikane som gjør at unge kvier seg for å delta i samfunnsdebatten. Hvorfor er det slik? Gjennom Ungdommens ytringsfrihetsråd håper jeg å være med på å finne ut av det – og å skape en mer åpen samfunnsdebatt med plass til flere unge stemmer. Prosjektet skjer i regi av Norsk PEN og Fritt Ord, og jeg håper unge folk fra hele landet med ulike identiteter og erfaringer vil søke!

Det er nemlig ikke lenge siden jeg snakket med en engasjert venninne som fortalte meg at «jeg ville skrive noe om den saken, men orker ikke hets akkurat nå». Det er trist å høre, men det er gjenkjennelig.

Undersøkelser viser at unge deltar sjeldnere i samfunnsdebatter enn andre aldersgrupper. Rådet vil finne ut hvorfor, men jeg tror at en del av svaret ligger i frykten for hets og trusler og det faktum at det er vanskelig å komme unna på grunn av sosiale medier.

Sjikane rammer også ungdommer ulikt. Unge som er mørkere i huden enn meg, som har en annen kjønnsidentitet eller kjønnslegning enn meg eller en annen funksjonsvariasjon opplever hets og trusler på andre måter.

Samfunnsdebattant Andreas Hasle beskrev dette godt da han i 2018 skrev:

«Å delta i debatten har alltid kostet mer for noen enn for andre, men med sosiale medier blir det stadig vanskeligere å slippe unna. Det hever terskelen. Kanskje har vi tiet i hjel den neste Deeyah Khan, Amal Aden eller Lan Marie Berg allerede før de har hevet stemmen. Det har ikke Norge råd til.»

Når noen grupper ikke deltar i samfunnsdebatten overlater vi muligheten til å forme samfunnet og sette dagsorden til de få. Dette er et demokratisk problem. Mitt ønske for arbeidet med Ungdommens ytringsfrihetsråd er å skape en mer åpen samfunnsdebatt, hvor unge ikke må vurdere om de orker å bli hetset før de bruker stemmen sin. Denne åpenheten kan uttrykkes på følgende måter:

  • Åpenhet i å ikke diskreditere meningsmotstanderne sine opplevelser og å ta dem på alvor.
  • Åpenhet i språket: ikke bidra til å skape et debattklima hvor vi snakker om «oss» og «dem».
  • Åpenhet i form av å gi folk muligheten til å ombestemme seg og endre mening.
  • Åpenhet i form av å løfte frem nye stemmer.
  • Åpenhet i form av å ikke bruke hersketeknikker.

Jeg håper vi sammen i Ungdommens ytringsfrihetsråd klarer å bidra til å løfte fram unge stemmer som tidligere ikke har blitt hørt i mediene. Så håper jeg politikerne og andre samfunnsaktører vil lytte til oss og vise at de tar unge stemmer på alvor.

Jeg valgte å bruke min stemme slik at flere kan bruke sin både ute i offentligheten og på hjemmebane. Det håper jeg flere vil gjøre.

 Innlegget ble publisert i Stavanger Aftenblad 27. juni 2020.


Maria Ressa dømt til seks års fengsel for ærekrenkelser

Skjermdump fra Rapplers video fra pressekonferansen til Maria Ressa og Rey Santos Jr

Den filippinske journalisten Maria Ressa ble i dag dømt til seks års fengsel for å ha ærekrenket en forretningsmann i en artikkel som ble publisert på nyhetsstedet Rappler i 2012.

“If we can’t do our jobs, your rights will be lost”, sa Maria Ressa på en pressekonferanse etter at dommen hadde falt.

– Maria Ressa er først og fremst en drivende dyktig journalist. Hun gjør en viktig jobb for folk på Filippinene og er et forbilde på så mange områder. Vi håper hun holder motet oppe og ikke lar seg kneble. Vi oppfordrer alle til å følge med henne og passe på! sier Kjersti Løken Stavrum, styreleder i Norsk PEN.

Maria Ressa har rapportert om korrupsjon og overgrep, deriblant henrettelsen av tusenvis av filippinere i president Dutertes krig mot narkotika. Ressa driver nyhetsstedet Rappler, som har vært kritisk til landets regjering og president i en lang rekke artikler..

Ressa ble dømt sammen med sin kollega Reynaldo Santos Jr. Begge slapp ut med kausjon, men risikerer seks års fengsel. Dommen ble anket på stedet.

New security law threatens Hong Kong’s freedom of speech, warns PEN in Scandinavia

11 June 2020

China’s Legislative Assembly, the National People’s Congress, approved on May 28 the plan to pass a security law for Hong Kong. The decision has generated strong reactions, not least from Hong Kong’s own population. The British response has been particularly strong. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997. China and the United Kingdom agreed that Hong Kong should gain self-governing status in the Chinese People’s Republic, and that Hong Kong should retain its economic and political system for 50 years after the transfer – that is, until 2047.

The policy was called “One country – two systems”.

With the new Security Act, the Chinese authorities are breaking this agreement. This is the reason for the unrest that has haunted the region in recent years. Citizens were assured that they would be allowed to keep their freedoms, but instead they felt that China was constantly intervening in governance and gradually narrowing their freedom of expression. Writers, artists, journalists and academics now feel unsafe. In 2016, several bookstores were abducted by Chinese security agents, the Swedish-Chinese bookseller and publisher Gui Minhai are still incarcerated in China, he was sentenced to ten years in prison in February this year. Hong Kong’s large academic environment is also met by Chinese demands to show “responsibility” and to act “patriotic”.

The new legislation will prevent “separatism”, “rioting”, “terrorism”, “treason” and “foreign interference”. In addition, China is allowed to set up its own security agencies in Hong Kong. With the help of new technology, the management in Beijing will be able to monitor each individual inhabitant of the former crown colony.

Norwegian PEN, Swedish PEN and Danish PEN are deeply concerned about developments in Hong Kong and the consequences of the new law. We stand in solidarity with everyone working for freedom of speech in Hong Kong.

In addition to the United Kingdom, the EU and a large number of other countries, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, have clearly distanced themselves from China’s attempts to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Norwegian, Swedish and Danish PEN encourages the governments of the three countries to present a joint condemnation of the new legislation created to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and stifle Hong Kong’s freedom of expression.

Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President Norwegian PEN
Per Øhrgaard, President Danish PEN
Jesper Bengtsson, President Swedish PEN

Calling for greater transparency from Turkey’s public ad agency

4th June, Norwegian PEN together with 19 other international press freedom and freedom of expression groups sent a joint public letter to the General Director of Turkey’s Public Advertising Agency, which is responsible for the fair distribution of public ads in national and local newspapers.
Turkish newspapers / SHUTTERSTOCK

Rıdvan Duran,
General Director, Basın İlan Kurumu (BIK)
Merkez Efendi Mah. Mevlana Cad. No: 140/A
Toya Plaza Kat: 5 Zeytinburnu / İSTANBUL

Dear Mr. Duran,

On behalf of the 20 international and local press freedom organisations and signatories to this letter, we are writing to the Public Advertising Agency (BIK) in response to your letter on
March 24.

First of all, we would like to thank you once again for keeping an open dialogue with the international press freedom groups who are party to this letter. And we highly appreciate BIK’s role in providing Turkey’s media and its workers with the financial support and
advertising revenue to sustain the variety of print papers in the country.

However, we would like to kindly draw attention to several issues that were raised during our meeting on February 6 and in the following letters in order to repeat our concerns about BIK’s criteria regarding the distribution of public advertisement and bans implemented on newspapers.

Firstly, you have mentioned in your letter that no media outlet or group has requested information on the annual revenue distribution to newspapers before, because all recipient newspapers of public ads can access this information at all times.

Our view is that due to the important role that BIK plays in distributing public money to 1,054 newspapers in Turkey, it is BIK that has the responsibility to proactively make this information public in the name of transparency. Access to such reports is crucial to proving that the distribution to newspapers by BIK is equal and fair.

We have called on BIK to ensure plurality and diversity in support to media, which is essential to ensuring all voices are supported and heard. Our call on BIK to lift the indefinite ban on Evrensel does not concern only one newspaper but rather reflects a call to support
plurality and diversity across the whole media sector. Evrensel is a symbolic case that represents the critical press as a whole, which has been continuously targeted by judicial harassment and other state tools.

Evrensel has on several occasions answered the allegation against it of bulk buying. We have learned that the latest audit request by Evrensel to BIK has been understandably postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic. We feel confident that when public health circumstances allow it, BIK will conduct a fair audit in response to Evrensel’s statement that any technical problems have been resolved.

We also understand that BIK conducts audits based on claims of a “violation of the regulation” by newspapers. We believe that it would be important to provide information on how many such audits BIK has conducted over the past year and against which

Another concern relates to bans based on “press ethics violations”. There is a growing trend of BIK imposing lengthy bans of this type for over 10 or 15 days. While we understand that all national and local newspapers must respect press ethics and conduct fact-based
reporting, it would be of great importance to understand the fuller picture regarding BIK’s bans based on such press ethics violations and the full criteria and reasons for implementing them. Doing such would strengthen trust in BIK’s work.

At the moment, due to lack of publicly available information, international press freedom groups are only aware of bans that have been reported by the media. To give some examples, since your letter in March, the national newspaper Sözcü reported on April 30,
2020 that newspapers Sözcü and Korkusuz have been under immense pressure by ad bans over their news stories. The report stated that several ex officio investigations had been opened in the last eight months on news stories, eventually resulting in a 22-day ad ban on Sözcü and 19-day ban on Korkusuz. According to the news report, these bans correspond to a revenue loss of two million TL (approx. €267.000) for the Sözcü media group.

Another local newspaper in Sakarya, whose name is not revealed, was issued an 8-day ban on March 23, 2020, according to local reports, over press ethics violations. The ban was reported to correspond to 8.000 TL revenue loss (€1,069).

Last but not least, Evrensel newspaper was issued with a 5-day ban on April 22, 2020 over an article published on February 24, for allegedly associating Turkey with terrorist groups based on a critical op-ed on Turkey’s foreign policy and military operations in Libya and
Syria. A passage from the article has been cited in the BIK decision that article “crosses the lines of criticism” because of referring to some outlawed groups’ manipulation of religious values and expressing similarities in Turkey’s approach to religious concept of “martyrdom”.

Based on the information found on BIK’s website, during the first 11 General Assembly meetings between January 10, 2020 and June 1, a total of 39 national and local newspapers received advertising bans in a total amount of 316 days based on “Press Ethics Violations”.

Although the names of newspapers and detailed information on these bans are not revealed, this is likely to mean considerable revenue loss of many newspapers, which might force them eventually to shut down their print editions.

The most recent example on this is the 35-day-ban on Cumhuriyet newspaper during the 10th General Assembly meeting on May 13. Cumhuriyet was fined for an article reported on unauthorized construction on rental land belonging to Communications Director Fahrettin Altun in Istanbul. Cumhuriyet said that this ban would mean a 500.000 TL loss (approx. €67,400) for the newspaper. Cumhuriyet reporters are under investigation for the same reporting. Altun is well known for filing consecutive lawsuits against journalists and newspapers for any criticism against him or the President Erdoğan. Court decisions to block access to news reports on 273 newspapers online reporting the same issue is another sign of intolerance of fact-based critical reporting.

Yet another recent example in May is a 7-day ban on BirGün newspaper over two articles published in September 2019 on alleged corruption in country’s largest humanitarian organization, Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay). BirGün reported that although BIK has not disproved the claims, they issued the ban for “generating misperception” and publishing false information.

In comparison to the bans on 39 newspapers between January and May noted above, BIK issued only nine days ban on six newspapers under “Press Ethics Violations” in the first nine months of 2019 (between January and September). These figures show that the number of ad bans on newspapers is increasing, although there is no clear justification why.

As we have noted, because BIK does not publish information about which newspapers received ad bans, it is not possible for the public or for international press freedom organizations to receive the full picture about the criteria and fairness for these bans.

Therefore, greater transparency would be in BIK’s interest.
Additionally, BIK has requested a defence from 22 newspapers during 11 General Assembly meetings in 2020 based on allegations of press ethics violations, decisions which all have been taken ex officio. At the same time, 14 files against newspapers upon individual complaints have been rejected as no action or investigation was seen as necessary.

Information about from which newspapers BIK requested a defence and which complaints were rejected on which grounds is crucial to understanding BIK’s role and policy to provide support to 1,054 newspapers regardless of their editorial line.

One latest example was that a defence was requested from Evrensel over an article published on April 16 reporting CHP MP Özgür Özel’s comments on the corruption allegations on the land rented by Presidential Communications Director Altun. As Evrensel reports that BIK did not specify which part in the news story violated the press ethics, BIK accused the newspaper of “publication against public ethics”, “accusing someone without him/her proven guilty” after publishing an opposition politician’s interview.

We do recognize and appreciate BIK’s financial support to 3,411 press workers and to 150 minority newspapers, as well as the financial support to numerous journalists associations as it was reported in your letter. However, we believe that it remains important to provide maximum transparency when it comes to the distribution of the 467.041.082 TL annual budget in 2019. This transparency is necessary to ensure public trust in BIK’s valuable work.

Finally, we would like to touch upon another issue you have brought in your response about the independence of BIK and its General Assembly. In 2018, BIK has been tied under direct control of the Presidential Communications Directorate by a presidential decree.

As you also specified in the letter, BIK General Assembly is composed of three 12-member groups and these three groups have been named respectively as “Press Group”, “Government Group”, and “Impartial Group”. As most of the General Assembly members
were directly appointed by or selected under influence by the Presidential Office, this raises concerns about how the BIK General Assembly maintains its independence and impartiality.

To give an example, Serhat Albayrak, former chair of Çalık Holding together with his brother, Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak, is among those members of “Press Group” as the owner of Sabah newspaper, which has been criticized for publicly targeting those who have been critical of the AKP administration. Serhat Albayrak was also reported by German member of the parliament Ulla Jelpke in a parliamentary question to be financing the SETA
Foundation which has published a report called “Extensions of international media in Turkey” profiling journalists working for respected international media outlets such as Deutsche Welle, BBC, Euronews, Voice of America.

Similarly, İsmail Çağlar, a member of the General Assembly under “Government Group”, is one of the three authors who prepared the abovementioned SETA report. And finally, Ebubekir Şahin, the chair of Radio and Television High Council (RTÜK), is one of the members under the same group appointed by the presidential office. RTÜK has been filing broadcast bans and monetary fines to numerous critical tv channels for hosting opposition politicians or critical coverage of state policies while ignoring TV programmes in progovernment media which have used an open language of inciting public to violence and polarization until a public outcry broke out.

Unfortunately, these kind of examples damage the appearance of the impartiality of BIK.

We truly believe that a first step toward overcoming this damage rests with transparent reporting on BIK’s decisions on bans and distribution of public ad revenue.

Thank you

Sincerely yours,

Signed by:
Articolo 21
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Danish PEN
English PEN
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
German PEN
Index on Censorship
International Press Institute (IPI)
Norwegian PEN
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa
PEN America
PEN Canada
PEN International
PEN Turkey
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Swedish PEN

Narges Mohammadi fyller 47 år i fengsel

Den iranske journalisten og menneskrettighetsaktivisten Narges Mohammadi fyller år i fengsel. Skriv til henne!, oppfordrer Asieh Amini.

Bla ned på siden for å lese teksten på persisk/Scroll down to read the text in Persian

I dag, 20. april, har Norsk PENs æresmedlem Narges Mohammadi bursdag. Hun fyller 47 år i fengselet i Zanjan i Iran, langt fra barna Kiana og Ali, langt fra mannen, foreldrene, familie og venner som feirer dagen uten henne. Hun sitter alene i fengselet og kan kun fantasere om hvordan bursdagsfeiringen kunne ha vært. Men kanskje hjelper ikke en gang fantasien for å fremskaffe bildene.

Mens koronaviruset herjer er ikke de politiske fangene trygge i fengsel. Den iranske staten slipper ikke ut politiske fanger til hjemmekarantene. Folk dømt for økonomisk korrupsjon og andre kriminelle har blitt innvilget midlertidig løslatelse, men denne muligheten gjelder ikke Narges Mohammadi, Nasrin Sotoudeh og mange andre fanger som er dømt til lange fengselsstraffer kun på grunn av ting de har skrevet, har sagt eller har tenkt. Det er ytringsfriheten som forhindrer Narges fra å se barna sine på bursdagen sin i karantene.

14. april skrev Narges’ mor sitt fjerde brev til lederen av Høyesterett i Iran og ba ham hjelpe datteren. Hun skrev at Narges’ liv er i fare, akkurat som de andre fangenes liv er i fare. Hun deler celle med kriminelle fanger.

Hun skrev: “Narges forteller at koronaviruset gjør situasjonen mye vanskelige for alle, både fysisk og psykisk. Fangene får ikke møte familiemedlemmer, det er forbudt. Mødre kan ikke treffe barna sine. Fangene har ikke nok mat, frukt og grønnsaker. De har ingen mulighet til å trene aller andre aktiviteter, de har ingen form for underholdning.»

Narges sier: «Siden jeg ble tvangssendt til dette fengselet for tre og en halv måned siden, har jeg vært vitne til mange slagsmål. Men situasjonen nå er forskjellig og verre enn noensinne. For noen dager siden kuttet en fange over blodåren med en kniv rett foran alles øyne. Det var forferdelig! En annen truer meg og andre medfanger med kniv. Alle er veldig sinte og urolige.»

Hva kan vi gjøre? Det samme som når et av våre egne familiemedlemmer er i trøbbel. Skriv for å hjelpe henne! Skriv til den iranske staten og be dem om å la Narges få komme hjem. Skriv i sosiale medier eller der du tror det kan hjelpe, men skriv! Ikke vær taus – Narges trenger å høre «gratulerer med dagen!» , hun som sitter i en mørk, mørk celle i Zanjan.

Av Asieh Amini, styremedlem i Norsk PEN, medlem i Komiteen for Fengslede Forfattere.

Om Narges Mohammadi

Norsk PENs æresmedlem Narges Mohammadi opplevde å bli undertrykket og sensurert for første gang som student. I Iran ble hun utestengt fra å drive med hobbyen fjellklatring, og arrestert for å være med i en reformvennlig valgkampanje. Senere ble alle reformistiske magasiner og aviser hun skrev for stengt av domstolene. Selv om Mohammadi egentlig utdannet seg til å bli fysiker, er hun mest kjent som journalist og menneskerettighetsforkjemper. Mohammadi har blant annet jobbet i Center for Human Rights, grunnlagt av fredsprisvinner Shirin Ebadi. I 2009 fikk Mohammadi forbud mot å engasjere seg for menneskerettigheter – noe hun nektet å gå med på. Siden den gang har hun vært fengslet i flere omganger, og i 2019 var det alvorlig internasjonal bekymring for Mohammadis helsetilstand. Hun ble akutt syk, men fikk ikke nødvendig medisinsk tilsyn og behandling i Evin-fengselet. Norsk PENs Komité for Fengslede Forfattere sendte i 2019 et brev til Irans president og ba om frifinnelse av Mohammadi.

Twenty-four rights-groups call on Turkey to release all those arbitrarily detained, now at risk of Covid-19

Osman Kavala

In the early hours of Tuesday 14 April, the Turkish Parliament passed a law which will lead to the release of up to 90,000 prisoners. However, it excludes scores of journalists, human rights defenders, politicians, lawyers and others arbitrarily detained pending trial or serving sentences following unfair trials under Turkey’s overly broad anti-terrorism laws which facilitate incarceration for exercise of free speech.

While we welcome any measures taken to alleviate overcrowding in Turkey’s prisons, the new measures unjustifiably exclude tens of thousands who are imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their rights.  ARTICLE 19, Punto24 and the 22 undersigned organisations call on the Turkish authorities to take immediate steps to fulfill their human rights obligations by releasing all those arbitrarily detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression and help mitigate the threat caused by the Covid-19 public health pandemic

The adoption of the law, which is part of the government’s judicial reform strategy announced in 2019, was fast-tracked in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to alleviate overcrowding in Turkey’s prisons. The new law comes into force as Turkey’s Justice Ministry has announced the death of three prisoners from Covid-19 on 13 April. The new law does not apply to individuals in pre-trial detention and also excludes anyone convicted of terrorism-related crimes, espionage or crimes against the intelligence services – laws which are frequently used to prosecute journalists, human rights defenders and others. This means many thousands of individuals whose only crime is the exercise of their right to freedom of expression are effectively excluded from release and are at increased risk of contracting the disease in prison.

Among them are Ahmet Altan, 70, who is awaiting appeal after being sentenced to 10.5 years in prison for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member”, on the basis of his expression of political views, his previous role as editor of Taraf newspaper, and alleged contacts. It also includes businessman Osman Kavala, who has been in pre-trial detention for over two and a half years, currently on the charge of “espionage” and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, who has been in prison since November 2016 and whose release has been repeatedly blocked despite a European Court decision ordering it. Journalists Barış Terkoğlu, Barış Pehlivan, Hülya Kılınç, Murat Ağırel, Ferhat Çelik and Aydın Keser, were remanded in prison in March, on charges under the Law on National Intelligence Agency, in connection with their reporting on the death of an intelligence officer in Libya.

Turkey is subject to the authority of both the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the European Committee on the Prevention on Torture who respectively have issued calls to “reduce prison populations and other detention populations, wherever possible” and said concerted efforts by all relevant authorities to resort to alternatives to deprivation of liberty “ is imperative, in particular, in situations of overcrowding.”

We likewise urge the Turkish authorities to follow the advice of the World Health Organisation, which strongly recommends States give enhanced consideration to non-custodial measures at all stages of the administration of criminal justice, including at the pre-trial, trial and sentencing as well as post-sentencing stages. It also urges priority be given to conditional release, particularly for older persons, ill people, and others (including pregnant women) with specific risks related to Covid-19. The WHO has made it clear that without taking urgent measures in prisons to reduce the spread of the virus, efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 in the community are also likely to fail.

The Turkish courts frequently justify pre-trial detention on the grounds of flight risk or tampering with evidence. Given the closure of borders due to the pandemic, it is difficult to see what justification there is for holding individuals in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods in what is now an extremely high risk situation.

To protect the human rights of prisoners, including their right to life and health, and to protect the health of the public at large, the Turkish authorities should now enact immediate measures to release all those arbitrarily detained, whether in pre-trial detention or after conviction, particularly given many are vulnerable to Covid-19 due to their age or underlying health conditions. We urge the authorities to move now to prevent a humanitarian disaster. Failure to release those detained and imprisoned in unfair trials and on spurious charges, which would help reduce the spread of a deadly disease in detention, would show further alarming disregard for human rights by the Turkish government.



Punto24, Platform for Independent Journalism
Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Danish PEN
English PEN
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
German PEN
Human Rights Watch
IFoX / Initiative for Freedom of Expression
Index on Censorship
International Press Institute (IPI)
International Federation of Journalists
Norwegian PEN
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
PEN America
PEN International
PEN Turkey
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Swedish PEN
Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project (TSLP)
Wan-Ifra / World Association of News Publishers

Turkey: Rights groups call for urgent release of imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders and others, now at risk of Covid-19

Amid growing concerns over the spread of Covid-19 in prisons, the Turkish government is accelerating the preparation of a draft law that will reportedly release up to 100,000 prisoners. This is a welcome step. Overcrowding and unsanitary facilities already pose a serious health threat to Turkey’s prison population of nearly 300,000 prisoners and about tens of thousands of prison staff. That will only be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. However, we remain concerned that journalists,  human rights defenders and others imprisoned for simply exercising their rights, and others who should be released, will remain behind bars in the package of measures as currently conceived  by the government.


The undersigned organisations call on the Turkish authorities to immediately and unconditionally release journalists,  human rights defenders and others who have been charged or convicted simply for exercising their rights.  Additionally we believe that the Turkish authorities should re-examine the cases of all prisoners in pre-trial detention with a view to releasing them. According to international human rights law and standards, there is a presumption of release pending trial, in accordance with the presumption of innocence and right to liberty. Pre-trial detention should only be used as an exceptional measure, yet it is applied routinely and punitively in Turkey. The government should also seriously consider releasing prisoners who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, such as older prisoners and those with serious medical conditions. The authorities should ensure that all prisoners have prompt access to medical attention and health care to the same standards that are available in the community, including when it comes to testing, prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Prison staff and health care workers should have access to adequate information, equipment, training and support to protect themselves.

Under the current Law on the Execution of Sentences and Security Measures, prisoners are eligible for parole after they have served two thirds of their sentence. The draft law that is expected to be passed in Parliament within days reportedly makes prisoners eligible for parole after they have served half of their sentence. Under the new law, pregnant women and prisoners over 60 with documented health issues will be placed under house arrest. Individuals convicted of a small number of crimes, including on terrorism-related charges, will not be eligible for reduced sentences. The draft law does not apply to those held in pre-trial detention or whose conviction is under appeal. The measure is expected to be introduced as the third reform package under the government’s Judicial Reform Strategy revealed last summer.

In Turkey, anti-terrorism legislation is vague and widely abused in trumped up cases against journalists,  opposition political activists, lawyers, human rights defenders and others expressing dissenting opinions. As we have documented in the large number of trials we have monitored, many are held in lengthy pre-trial detention and many are convicted of terrorism-related crimes simply for expressing dissenting opinion, without evidence that they ever incited or resorted to violence, or assisted illegal organizations.

This includes high profile journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan, Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, and businessman and civil society figure Osman Kavala, in addition to many more academics, rights defenders and journalists. Demirtaş has previously reported heart-related health problems in prison, and both Altan and Kavala are over 60 years old meaning they could be at increased risk from Covid-19. These people should not be detained at all, excluding them from release would only compound the serious violations they have already suffered.

We, the undersigned, call on the government and Parliament to respect the principle of non-discrimination in the measures taken to lessen the grave health risk in prisons. The effect of the draft law is to exclude certain prisoners from release on the basis of their political views. Thousands of people are behind bars for simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Now they are also faced with an unprecedented risk to their health. According to its commitments under international human rights law, Turkey is under a clear obligation to take necessary measures to ensure the right to health of all prisoners without discrimination.

We invite Turkish authorities to use this opportunity to immediately release unjustly imprisoned people, and give urgent consideration to the release of those who have not been convicted of any offence and those who are at particular risk in prison from a rapidly spreading disease in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions where their health cannot be guaranteed.


Punto24, Platform for Independent Journalism
Amnesty International
Association of European Journalists (AEJ_
Cartoonists’ Rights Network International (CRNI)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Danish PEN
English PEN
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Freedom House
Frontline Defenders
German PEN
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Free Expression – Turkey (IFoX)
International Press Institute (IPI)
IPS Communication Foundation/bianet
IFEX – the Global Network Defending and Promoting Free Expression
Norwegian PEN
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
PEN Canada
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Swedish PEN
Turkey Human Rights Litigation Support Project (TSLP)
Wan-Ifra/World Association of News Publishers