Kronikk i Aftenposten: Det nytter å kjempe for fengslede forfattere

Våre tanker og ord skal være frie. Overraskende mange forsøker likevel å sette dem i fengsel.

Denne uken markerer vi i PEN Fengslede Forfatteres Dag. I den anledning har styreleder i Norsk PEN, Kjersti Løken Stavrum, en kronikk på trykk i Aftenposten i dag, onsdag 12. november.

Innlegget kan leses åpent hos Aftenposten her, eller under:

Det nytter å kjempe for fengslede forfattere

«Poesien kan aldri fengsles», skrev Dr. Stella Nyanzi, akademiker og poet i Uganda. I år har hun sittet fengslet for et dikt hun skrev på Facebook. Nyanzi brukte poesien for å kritisere president Yoweri Museveni som har sittet med makten i Uganda siden 1986. Nyanzi ble dømt for trakassering på internett og støtende kommunikasjon.

Nyanzis historie er ikke unik. Hvert år forfølges altfor mange forfattere, journalister og andre samfunnsengasjerte mennesker fordi de har ytret seg negativt mot myndigheter eller øvrige maktpersoner i samfunnet.

Mange av disse maktpersonene er dessverre også lettkrenkede.

Fengslet til taushet

Denne uken markerer vi Fengslede forfatteres dag. Vi i Norsk PEN bruker hvert år denne muligheten til å minne om alle dem som er fengslet til taushet. Slik legger vi ytterligere press på dem som vil straffe det frie ord – og vi motiverer dem som er fengslet, ofte under svært vanskelige forhold.

Og det nytter. Tre av de fem fangene vi rettet oppmerksomheten mot i fjor, er nå sluppet fri.

Den ukrainske filmregissøren Oleg Sentsov er kanskje den mest kjente blant disse. Vi fryktet at han ville sulte seg ihjel.

Den tyrkiske forfatteren Ahmet Altan er et annet eksempel. Boken hans Eg får aldri sjå verda igjen kom på norsk tidligere i år. Denne måneden ble han likevel sluppet fri etter et betydelig internasjonalt press for ham og hans sak.

Blant PENs tidligere fokusfanger finnes den tyrkiske forfatteren og nobelprisvinneren i litteratur Orhan Pamuk (2005) og den kinesiske forfatteren og menneskerettighetsforkjemperen Liu Xiaobo (2009). Året etter at PEN rettet søkelyset mot Xiaobo, ble han tildelt Nobels fredspris. Pamuk er fortsatt en viktig forfatter. Xiaobo døde som fange for to år siden.

Innstramninger i ytringsfriheten

De siste årene har vi sett innstramminger i ytringsfriheten i en rekke land. Det gjelder ikke bare for tradisjonelle medier som aviser, TV og radio, men også for sosiale medier.

Og lovverket tilpasses gjerne gradvis slik at man kan ramme prinsippet om ytringsfrihet på tilsynelatende legalt vis.

Den amerikanske stiftelsen Freedom House, som forsker på og kjemper for demokrati og menneskerettigheter, ga nylig ut rapporten «The Crisis of Social Media». Der påpeker de at et alarmerende antall mennesker verden over nå fengsles for legitim aktivitet i sosiale medier.

Skaper farlige ringvirkninger

I år benytter PEN Fengslede forfatteres dag til å ta opp sakene til nevnte Stella Nyanzi fra Uganda, Galal El-Behairy fra Egypt, Shakthika Sathkumara fra Sri Lanka, Lydia Cacho fra Mexico og Nedim Türfent i Tyrkia. Én rømte til eksil etter gjentatte trusler, én er løslatt til husarrest mens han venter på neste rettslige høring, og tre sitter i fengsel fordi de har ytret seg kritisk mot myndighetene. Ingen av sakene er unike.

Norge scorer best på World Press Freedom Index om pressefrihet. Det forplikter. Vi i Norsk PEN engasjerer oss fordi vi tror at alle disse sakene er en tragedie for dem det gjelder, men at de også skaper farlige ringvirkninger til andre land og inspirerer andre maktpersoner til å fengsle den frie tanke. Vi som har ytringsfrihet, må bruke den til å gjøre slike maktovergrep så vanskelige og ubehagelige som mulig.

Årets fokusfanger: Uganda, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Mexico og Tyrkia

Stella Nyanzi, Shakthika Sathkumara, Galal El-Behairy, Lydia Cacho og Nedim Türfent er årets fokusfanger i 2019.
Årets fokusfanger: Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, Galal El-Behairy, Stella Nyanzi, Nedim Türfent og Shakthika Sathkumara. Foto: PEN International

“Teach the nation poetry.

Handcuffs cannot contain the potency of poems.

Arrest warrants cannot disappear memorized verses

Poetry can never be detained in gaol.”

– Dr. Stella Nyanzi

Årlig markerer Norsk PEN sammen med PEN-sentre verden over sin støtte til skribenter, journalister og forfattere som trues av myndigheter eller andre på grunn av sine ytringer.

Årets fokusfanger er akademikeren Stella Nyanzi, Uganda, forfatter og poet Shakthika Sathkumara, Sri Lanka, poet og lyriker Galal El-Behairy, Egypt, journalist og forfatter Lydia Cacho, Mexico og journalist og poet Nedim Türfent, Tyrkia. Fokusfangene velges ut av PEN International og representerer et mangfold i bakgrunn, sak og verdensdeler.

Blant fjorårets fem fokusfanger ble tre løslatt etter PENs aksjoner.  Ukrainske Oleg Sentsov, egyptiske Wael Abbas og bangladeshiske Shahidul Alam har alle sluppet ut av fengsel i året som har gått. Engasjement nytter!

Vil du gjøre noe? Skriv protestbrev til myndighetene i landet og krev fangene løslatt, del informasjon om fokusfangene i dine kanaler. Norsk PEN har også et krisefond for forfattere i akutt nød som du kan støtte.

Les om hver av fokusfangene:

Dr. Stella Nyanzi er en ugandisk akademiker, skribent og aktivist. Hun soner for tiden en 18 måneder lang fengselsdom for et dikt hun skrev på Facebook. I diktet leverer hun ramsalt kritikk av Ugandas president. Nyanzi ble dømt for internettrakassering og støtende kommunikasjon for diktet. Lovene om internettrakassering i Uganda er blitt kritisert fra mange hold. Nyanzi har fortsatt syv måneder igjen i fengsel.

Gjøre noe for Stella Nyanzi? Se hvordan her

Nedim Türfent, Tyrkia, er journalist og poet. Han ble pågrepet og anklaget for terrorisme, etter å dekket et militærangrep i kurdiskdominerte områder sørøst i Tyrkia. Türfent ble plassert i isolasjon i to år. Rettssaken var ikke rettferdig. 19 vitner har i ettertid fortalt at de ble torturert til å vitne mot ham. Türfent ble dømt til åtte år og ni måneder i fengsel i to rettsinstanser. Den tyrkiske grunnlovsdomstolen og Den europeiske menneskerettighetsdomstolen har ikke tatt stilling til saken ennå.

Gjøre noe for Nedim Türfent? Se hvordan her.

Shakthika Sathkumara er en prisbelønnet forfatter og poet fra Sri Lanka. Han ble anholdt 1. april i år for en novelle kalt Ardha («Halv»), som ifølge påtalemyndigheten «oppfordrer til religiøst hat». PEN International har lest novellen, og mener ikke denne oppfordrer til vold. PEN mener Sathkumaras anholdelse skjer utelukkende på grunn av hans benyttelse av ytringsfriheten.

Sathkumara satt varetektfengslet i over 120 dager, og ble løslatt mot kausjon i august. Neste høring i saken er 10. desember.

Gjøre noe for Shakthika Sathkumara? Se hvordan her

Galal El-Behairy er poet, lyriker og aktivist fra Egypt. Kritiske tekster mot regjeringen, skrevet av El-Behairy, ble brukt av en artist i en låt i 2018. Sangen gikk viralt, og en uke senere ble El-Behairy satt i varetekt. Den første tiden fikk ingen kontakt med ham. El-Behairy ble siden dømt for å ha fornærmet militæret og å spre falske nyheter. Han soner nå dommen på tre år i det beryktede høysikkerhetsfengselet Tora. Ifølge advokaten har El-Behairy tydelige tegn etter alvorlig tortur.

Gjøre noe for Galal El-Behairy? Se hvordan her

Lydia Cacho er skribent, journalist og aktivist fra Mexico. Hun har mottatt en rekke priser for sitt arbeid med å avdekke korrupsjon, narkosmugling, kjønnsbasert vold og organisert kriminalitet i over 30 år. For det samme arbeidet har hun også blitt truet på livet, ulovlig arrestert og angrepet en rekke ganger. Etter et innbrudd i hjemmet hennes, der to menn tok seg inn, stjal kildemateriale og drepte hundene i huset, flyktet Cacho inn i en eksiltilværelse.

Gjøre noe for Lydia Cacho? Se hvordan her.

Onsdag 13. november markerer Norsk PEN Fengslede Forfatteres Dag og deler ut årets Ossietzkypris. Arrangementet er åpent og gratis for alle. Les mer.

Den 7. desember arrangerer Norsk PENs Komité for fengslede forfattere postkortaksjon. Her vil det være mulig å skrive direkte til flere av årets fokusfanger og andre forfattere, journalister og bloggere for å gi en oppmuntring. Hjertelig velkommen!

Egypt: PEN publishes new work by imprisoned poet Galal El Behairy

Ahead of the expected verdict on 27 June, PEN centres are coming together to share a poem  has written in prison

Poet Galal El-Behairy was arrested in Egypt on 3 March 2018. He was held incommunicado for a week before appearing before the High State Security on 10 March, showing signs of severe torture. The High State Security Prosecution subsequently ordered for him to undergo a forensic medical examination: the findings of the examination have not been made public, nor shared with his lawyer.

More than three months later, El-Behairy remains in detention, facing charges in both the Military Court and the High State Security Court. The charges are believed to relate to his latest book of poetry ‘The Finest Women on Earth’, published earlier this year. El-Behairy is also under investigation in relation to lyrics he wrote for artist Ramy Essam’s song ‘Balaha’, which criticises Egyptian government policies. Following the release of the song and music video on 26 February and prior to El-Behairy’s arrest, both he and Essam became victims of a smear campaign led by pro-government media.

On 6 May, El-Behairy attended a trial in the Military Court where he was informed that the verdict in relation to his book of poetry would be handed down three days later, on 9 May. The verdict was later postponed until 16 May, and is now expected on 27 June, El-Behairy’s birthday.

PEN believes that El-Behairy is being held in violation of his right to freedom of expression and urges the Egyptian authorities to release him and the many other writers and activists unlawfully detained in Egypt immediately and unconditionally.

To draw further international attention to his case ahead of the expected verdict, PEN centres – Danish PEN, English PEN, Finnish PEN, French PEN, German PEN, Norwegian PEN, PEN America, Swedish PEN – and our colleagues at ArabLit, Artists at Risk and FreeMuse are coming together to publish a new poem that El-Behairy has written while in detention, and to continue calls for his release.


Galal El-Behairy

From the Tora Prison in Cairo

May 2018

Translated from Egyptian Colloquial Arabic.[i]

 

A Letter from Tora Prison

 

Opening:

You, something

in the heart, unspoken,

something

in the throat, the last wish

of a man on the gallows

when the hour of hanging comes,

the great need

for oblivion; you, prison

and death, free of charge;

you, the truest meaning of man,

the word “no”—

I kiss your hand

and, preparing for the trial,

put on a suit and pray

for your Eid to come.

I’m the one

who escaped from the Mamluks,

I’m the child

whose father’s name is Zahran,

and I swim in your name, addiction.

I’m the companion of outlawed poets.

O my oblivion, I’m the clay

that precedes the law of concrete.

 

In the heart of this night

I own nothing

but my smile.

I take my country in my arms

and talk to her

about all the prisoners’ lives… out there

beyond the prison’s borders,

beyond the jailer’s grasp,

and about man’s need… for his fellow man,

about a dream

that was licit

and possible,

about a burden

that could be borne

if everyone took part in it.

 

I laugh at a song

they call “criminal,”

which provoked them

to erect a hundred barricades.

On our account, they block out the sun

and the thoughts in the head.

They want to hide the past

behind locks and bolts,

preventing him from whispering

about how things once were.

They want to hide him

by appointing guards—

weak-minded foreigners

estranged from the people.

But what wonder is this?

His fate is written

in all the prison cells.

His cell has neither bricks

nor steel,

and he was not defeated

within it.

Outside… a squadron of slaves.

Inside… a crucified messiah.

The thorns above his brow

are witnesses: You betrayed his revolution

with your own hands.

With shame in your eyes, you

are the Judases of the past,

whatever your religion, whatever

miniscule vision you have.

We’ve come back

and we see you.

 

You who imprisoned

the light, that naked groaning.

The light doesn’t care

how tall the fence is;

it’s not hemmed in

by steel bars

or officers’ uniforms.

It cannot be forgotten.

You can take a public square away from us,

but there are thousands and thousands of others,

and I’ll be there, waiting for you.

Our land will not betray us.

With each olive branch

we’re weaving your shrouds.

And the young man you killed

has come back, awake now

and angry.

He’s got a bone to pick

with his killer.

He’s got a bone to pick

with the one who betrayed him,

the one who, on that night of hope,

acquiesced, fell silent, and slept.

His wound has healed; he’s come back,

a knight

without a bridle;

he’s setting up the trial

while an imam prays among us

and illumines the one who was blind;

he’s rolling up his sleeves, preparing

for a fight;

he was killed—yes, it’s true—and yet

he has his role in this epic;

he stands there now

and holds his ground.

 

We’ve returned

to call on God

and proclaim it: “We’ve come back,

come back

hand in hand.”

Again we proclaim it: “We’ve come back,

and we vow

to spread the light,

the new dawn,

the keen-sighted conscience.”

We’ve come back, and we can smell

the fear in in your veins;

and our cheers tonight

are the sweetest of all:

“We are not afraid.

We are not afraid.”

 

We saw a country

rise from sleep

to trample a pharaoh

and cleanse the age

of the cane and cudgel.

We saw a country sing:

those were no slave songs,

no harbingers of doom, rather

songs fitting

for a new kind of steel.

We saw it.

We saw a country

where no one is oppressed.

[i] Due to the potential for political repercussions against himself and his family, the translator of this poem has chosen to remain anonymous.

The poem is also available in Arabic: https://pen-international.org/app/uploads/Arabic-Galal-El-Behairy-June-2018-web-piece-June-18.pdf


TAKE ACTION

Spread the word
Join us in sharing Galal’s piece, details of his case and calls to action on social media. If possible, please join the Twitterstorm from 15 pm on Saturday 9 June. #FreeGalal

Sign the petition
Add your support to the petition for Galal’s release https://www.change.org/p/egyptian-regime-torture-beatings-and-prison-for-galal-el-behairy-for-ramy-essam-s-balaha-freegalal

For further background information, please see PEN’s open letter to the Egyptian authorities
https://pen-international.org/news/open-letter-egypts-grim-blow-on-freedom-of-expression-and-human-rights-the-tortured-poet-galal-el-behairy-must-be-freed

Egypt’s grim blow on freedom of expression and human rights: the tortured poet Galal El-Behairy must be freed

The Nordic and Estonian PEN centres protest against the tortured and arrested poet Galal El-Behairy.

8 May 2018

The President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
The Egyptian Minister of Justice Mohamed Hossam Abdel-Rahim
The Egyptian Minister of the Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffa
The Egyptian Public Prosecutor
The Egyptian Military Public Prosecutor

The Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy is currently detained and faces charges in the Military Court related to his latest book of poetry, ‘The Finest Women on Earth’ (خير نسوان الأرض), published earlier in 2018. El-Behairy likewise faces charges for writing the lyrics for artist Ramy Essam’s song ‘Balaha’ in a separate case investigated by the High State Security Prosecution. He was arrested, beaten and tortured after the release of the song.

On May 6, 2018, El-Behairy was given the information that the verdict will be given on May 9 by the Military Court. Charges against him in the Military Court case include insulting the military and spreading false news.

Ramy Essam’s song and music video Balaha was released on February 26, 2018. Soon after the release of the song, which criticizes the government and policies of Egypt, various pro-state TV hosts launched a smear campaign against Essam and El-Behairy.

On March 3, 2018 El-Behairy was arrested, and his whereabouts were not disclosed to his family or lawyers until he appeared before the High State Security Prosecution one week later, on March 10, 2018. He showed signs of severe torture and beating, and the High State Security Prosecution ordered him to undergo forensic medical examination.

On May 6, 2018 Galal El-Behairy attended a trial in the Military Court, and to a great surprise, was given the information that the verdict will be given already in three days, on May 9, on the case that handles the content of his book of poetry.

At the same time, El-Behairy is being investigated by the High State Security Prosecution for both ‘The Finest Women on Earth’ (خير نسوان الأرض) and the lyrics he wrote for ‘Balaha’. The High State Security charges against him include joining a terrorist organization, spreading false news, abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion, and insulting the military. An arrest warrant in the same case has been issued against Ramy Essam related to the song ‘Balaha’.

We, the undersigned PEN centres, stand in solidarity with Galal El-Behairy and Ramy Essam and urge Egyptian authorities to:

  • Drop all charges against Galal El-Behairy, in both the Military Court and the High State Security Court, in connection with the book of poetry ‘The Finest Women on Earth’ and the lyrics of ‘Balaha’, and release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is being held solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;
  • Ensure that Galal El-Behairy receives a fair trial, full legal representation, adequate medical care, and full access to family visits whilst detained;
  • Ensure the safety of Galal El-Behairy and his family and end all forms of harassment, intimidation, and attacks against them;
  • Drop all charges against and the arrest warrant for Ramy Essam, as he too has been peacefully practicing his legal right of freedom of expression;
  • Ensure that the right to freedom of expression in Egypt is fully respected in law and practice as provided for under the Egyptian Constitution and under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party; and
  • Ensure that Egypt respects the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) to which Egypt is a state party.

Venla Hiidensalo, President, Finnish PEN
Per Øhrgaard, President, Danish PEN
William Nygaard, President, Norwegian PEN
Jesper Bengtsson, President, Swedish PEN
Kätlin Kaldmaa, President, Estonian PEN

URGENT: Please sign and share the petition for the release of Galal El-Behairy

See the video Balaha.

More informationon Ramy Essam’s homepage.

#PrisonersofBalaha #FreeGalal