Day of the Imprisoned Writer: 39 writers killed last year

Five WiPC cases for 15 November, 2010

Each year, to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer on 15 November, the WiPC names five cases of individual writers under threat in different parts of the world.  This helps PEN members to focus their campaign activities and publicise these cases on or around 15 November.  PEN Centres also organise events featuring their own high-profile cases, usually writers who have been made “honorary members” of their centre. On 15 November, some centres present annual freedom of expression awards, such as Swedish PEN’s Tucholsky Award, and the Oxfam Novib PEN Award in the Hague.
This year, we have chosen cases from Iran, Mexico, Cameroon, Syria and Uzbekistan. These case will soon be posted on the PEN Website.

To view the 50 emblematic cases which the WiPC has chosen to highlight its 50th anniversary, go to: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/index.cfm?objectid=89044016-3048-676E-26469533866F5E71

1. CAMEROON: Robert Mintya, newspaper editor
The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International is seriously concerned about the health of Robert Mintya, editor of the newspaper Le Devoir, who has been imprisoned pending trial for alleged forgery since February 2010. Mintya was briefly hospitalised in late August after being attacked by another prisoner and on 28 September was transferred to a psychiatric hospital. If convicted, he and his co-defendant will face up to 20 years in prison.

Robert Mintya was arrested and briefly detained in early February 2010, along with editors Germain “Bibi” Ngota Ngota (Cameroun Express) and Serge Sabouang (La Nation), and journalist Simon Hervé Nko’o (Bebela). The journalists had been investigating alleged corruption involving Laurent Esso, Secretary General of the President’s Office, and the state-run oil company, National Hydrocarbons Company (SNH), of which Esso is also board chairman. Nko’o, who was reportedly tortured while in custody, went into hiding following his release.

Mintya, Sabouang and Ngota were re-arrested on 26 February and charged with forging Esso’s signature in a document and using it in an attempt to discredit him. All three were transferred to Kondengui prison in the capital Yaoundé on 10 March.

Ngota’s health deteriorated in custody and on 22 April he died due to a lack of medical attention, according to his death certificate. The Cameroonian government has denied this and allegations that Ngota had been tortured, stating that he had tested positive for HIV while in prison and had died of infections arising from this condition. His wife refutes this.

On 8 August, Mintya was reportedly beaten around the head by another prison inmate, causing him to lose consciousness. He was admitted to the prison infirmary and on 25 August was transferred to Yaoundé central hospital. However, he was reportedly given only limited access to medical care and was returned to his prison cell a few days later.

It is thought that the attack on Mintya may have been a reprisal for his implication of other people in the forgery case. Mintya was reportedly told that he would be freed if he signed a statement saying that he had been led astray and wrote a number of letters to Esso apologising for the forgery, some of which were published in L’Anecdote, a newspaper that supports Esso. When he failed to secure his release, Mintya reportedly wrote more letters accusing other leading Cameroonian personalities of being behind the forgery.

On 28 September Mintya was reportedly transferred to a psychiatric hospital. His deteriorating state of health and lack of adequate medical treatment are extremely alarming, especially considering Ngota’s death in custody.

Mintya and Sabouang reportedly face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Background
Another Cameroonian journalist recently denied medical care in prison is La Détente Libre publisher Lewis Medjo, who was released from prison in May after serving 20 months in prison for allegedly “publishing false news” about President Biya. Medjo suffered serious health problems while in jail which went largely untreated, causing him to lose hearing in one ear. He has reportedly suffered ongoing threats and harassment since his release.

Singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga (aka Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) – one of the cases highlighted for last year’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer – remains behind bars. Mbanga’s final appeal and request for parole have still not been considered by the Supreme Court despite having served two and a half years of a three-year prison sentence for allegedly taking part in anti-government riots in 2008.

The WiPC protests the pre-trial detention since February 2010 of editors Robert Mintya and Serge Sabouang. It calls for their immediate and unconditional release, as well as that of singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga, all detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression. Noting the 22 April death in custody of Germain “Bibi” Ngota Ngota, attributed to lack of medical attention, the WiPC also calls on the Cameroonian authorities to ensure that Mintya receives adequate healthcare while he remains in detention.

What you can do:
Write letters of appeal to President Paul Biya following the guidelines above and send them to your nearest diplomatic representative for Cameroon. Details of some Cameroonian embassies can be seen here: Foreign Embassies and Consulates in Cameroon

You may also send appeals directly to:
President Paul Biya
Fax: +237 22 22 08 70
Email: cellcom@prc.cm
Messages may also be sent via the Presidency’s website:
Présidence de la République
(Please note that these contact details are correct but problems using them have been reported, hence it is preferable to send appeals via your nearest embassy.)

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Tamsin Mitchell at PEN International in London.

For further information please contact Tamsin Mitchell at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: tamsin.mitchell@internationalpen.org.uk

2. Iran: Hossein Derakhshan, blogger
The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International condemns the nineteen-and-a-half year sentence handed down to Iranian-Canadian journalist and blogger Hossein Derakhshan by a Revolutionary Court on 29 September 2010. Derakhshan has been held since 1 November 2008 for comments posted on his weblog. PEN International considers Hossein Derakhshan to be detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to free expression, and therefore in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory. It calls for his immediate and unconditional release, and seeks assurances of his well-being in detention.

According to PEN’s information, Hossein Derakhshan was arrested from his family home in Tehran on 1 November 2008 shortly after returning to Iran from several years living in Canada and the United Kingdom. The authorities did not officially acknowledge his detention until 30 December 2008. He spent the first nine months of his detention in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison, where he is said to have been tortured.

Initial reports suggested that he was accused of “spying for Israel”, apparently because of a highly publicised trip he made to Israel (with whom Iran has no diplomatic relations) in 2006, travelling on a Canadian passport. He also faced accusations of ‘insulting religion’ in his blogs. Derakhshan was tried in June 2010, but no verdict was made known until late September 2010 when it was reported by the Farsi news website Mashreq that he had been convicted on charges of “propagating against the regime”, “co-operating with hostile states”, “promoting counter-revolutionary groups”, “insulting Islamic thought and religious figures” and “managing obscene websites”.

Nicknamed “the Blogfather”, Hossein Derakhshan, 33, is known for pioneering blogging in Iran with his Internet diaries, in both English and Farsi, which have been critical of the Iranian authorities, although more recently sympathetic to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hossein Derakhshan is held at Tehran’s Evin prison, where conditions are poor and reports of ill-treatment are widespread.

For more information, please see:
• Hossein Derakhshan’s English-language weblog, Editor – Myself
• Article by Maziar Bahari: Canada can protect Iranianas from their own government

What you can do:
PLEASE SEND APPEALS:
• Condemning the harsh prison sentence handed down to journalist and blogger Hossein Derakhshan solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to free expression;
• Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Hossein Derakhshan and all those currently detained in Iran in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory; and
• Seeking assurances of his well-being in detention.

APPEALS TO:
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei,
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street, Qom
Islamic Republic of Iran

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadeqh Larijani
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh (Office of the Head of the Judiciary)
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri
Tehran 1316814737
Islamic Republic of Iran

COPIES TO:
President:
His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Presidency,
Palestine Avenue,
Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran
Islamic Republic of Iran

If possible please send a copy of your appeal to the diplomatic representative for Iran in your country.

Please check with PEN International if sending appeals after 31 October 2010 and please send copies of any replies to Cathy McCann at cathy.mccann@internationalpen.org.uk.

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: cathy.mccann@internationalpen.org.uk

3. Mexico: José Bladimir Antuna García, crime reporter (died 2 November 2009)
The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) condemns the lack of progress investigating the murder of José Bladimir Antuna García, which remains unsolved a year after his death.   Antuna, a crime and security affairs reporter for the newspaper El Tiempo de Durango, was abducted while on his way to work in Durango, capital of Durango State, on 2 November 2009.  He was found dead later that day; his body showed signs of torture.

A year later, the murder remains unsolved and nine other print journalists have been killed in Mexico, bringing the death toll since 2004 to 35.

José Bladimir Antuna García, 39, was found to have died of «asphyxia from strangulation» but, according to some reports, his body also bore bullet wounds to the head and abdomen. A note found next to his body stated: “This happened to me for giving information to soldiers and for writing too much.” In the week before his death, Antuna had reportedly broken a story about police corruption in Durango and had also been investigating the unsolved murder of another El Tiempo de Durango journalist, Carlos Ortega Samper, who had been similarly abducted and killed in May 2009.

Antuna had reportedly been receiving death threats since late 2008 and was the target of an apparent assassination attempt on 28 April 2009. Despite reporting the latter to the Durango state attorney general’s office, Antuna was not provided with any protection and continued to receive threats.

On 26 May 2009, another Durango-based journalist, Eliseo Barrón Hernández, was found dead after having been kidnapped from his home.  On the same day, an anonymous caller phoned the El Tiempo de Durango offices saying that Antuna would be next. Antuna had reportedly exchanged information about police corruption and organised crime with Barrón on several occasions.

Antuna had previously received numerous threats on his mobile and work telephone, warning him not to publish «delicate» information. The caller sometimes identified himself as a member of Los Zetas, a paramilitary group reportedly linked to the Gulf drug cartel. One of the calls was apparently made from inside the Gómez Palacio penitentiary in Durango.

On 1 October 2009, Antuna said that he had received a summons at the El Tiempo office, ordering him to provide a statement to the state attorney general’s office on 6 October. No reason was given for the summons. El Tiempo published an article about it in an effort to protect Antuna. This failed to prevent his murder a month later.

According to a September 2010 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the investigation into Antuna’s death has been shockingly scant and to date the crime remains unsolved. The state attorney general has even denied that Antuna filed a complaint about the threats and murder attempt in April 2009. As CPJ says, “When [Antuna] received death threats, state investigators ignored them. When he was murdered, they ignored that too.”

Because no one knows who killed Antuna, reporting on crime and corruption in Durango has virtually ceased: journalists are afraid they might expose links between the authorities, police and drug cartels and meet the same fate as Antuna, Barrón and Ortega. Antuna’s wife and son continue to suffer intimidation, presumably at the hands of those who threatened and murdered the journalist.

For a detailed case study on Antuna, see CPJ’s report here: Silence or Death in Mexico’s Press

Background
Violence against journalists in Mexico continues to escalate, with eight print journalists murdered and three others disappeared in 2010 to date. In 2009, seven were killed and one went missing. Since January 2004, a total of 35 print journalists have been murdered and nine disappeared. The numbers are higher still if broadcast journalists are taken into account. Countless other reporters have also been threatened, attacked and otherwise harassed.

Few of these crimes are properly investigated or punished, laregly due to incompetence and corruption among Mexican law enforcement officials, particularly at the state and local level. According to CPJ, impunity has reigned in over 90 percent of press-related crimes in the last decade. However the majority of the crimes are likely to be related to the drug cartels who are struggling to control the media as they do territory, via “plomo o plata” (“lead or silver”). They appear to be winning, despite – or some say because of – President Calderón’s military crackdown on drug trafficking and organised crime. Since it began in 2006, an estimated 28,000 citizens have been killed. It appears that in many areas the authorities are simply not in control and have been infiltrated by the cartels.

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) condemns the lack of progress made in the investigation into the murder of José Bladimir Antuna García, which remains unsolved a year after his death. It requests assurances from the government of President Felipe Calderón that a full and impartial investigation is being carried out into Antuna’s murder, and details of any progress in the investigation to date. The WiPC also calls on the authorities to renew their efforts to shed light on all other unsolved crimes against journalists, particularly the 34 other murders and nine disappearances of print journalists since 2004. It urges the President to fulfill his promise to make crimes against journalists a federal offence and to set up journalist protection programmes.

What you can do:
1. Write letters of appeal to President Felipe Calderón following the guidelines above and send them to:

Presidente de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos
Residencia Oficial de los Pinos Casa Miguel Alemán
Col. San Miguel Chapultepec, C.P. 11850, DISTRITO FEDERAL, México
Fax: (+ 52 55) 5093 4901/ 5277 2376
Email: felipe.calderon@presidencia.gob.mx
Salutation: Señor Presidente/ Dear Mr President

Please also send copies of your appeals to Dr Gustavo Salas Chávez, Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists and Freedom of Expression (email: feadp@pgr.gob.mx), and to the Mexican Embassy in your country (see Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)).

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Tamsin Mitchell at the PEN International in London.

For further information please contact Tamsin Mitchell at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: tamsin.mitchell@internationalpen.org.uk

4. Syria: Tal Al-Mallouhi, blogger and poet
The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International is seriously concerned about the detention of Tal Al-Mallouhi a 19 year-old blogger, poet and high school student, who is said to be facing charges of espionage. She has been held incommunicado in Damascus since 27 December 2009, although her detention was not publicised until late August 2010. She is considered to be at risk of torture and ill-treatment, and there are concerns for her well-being in detention. No reason has been made known for the charges against her, although it is feared that Al-Mallouhi could be targeted for her online writings and poems which reportedly discuss political and social issues.

According to information received by PEN International, Al-Mallouhi was detained on 27 December 2009 after being summoned for questioning about her blog entries. After her arrest, state security officers raided her family home and confiscated her computer, notebook and other personal documents. She was held incommunicado at an undisclosed location without charge or access to her family for the first nine months of her detention. Her family was allowed to visit her for the first time at Doma prison in Damascus on 30 September 2010.

Until recently Al-Mallouhi’s family have sought her release through diplomatic negotiations and therefore did not want any publicity on the case. However, on 2 September 2010, her mother published an open letter to the Syrian president seeking information about her daughter’s welfare and calling for her release. On 5 October 2010 it was reported that Al-Mallouhi had been charged with spying for a foreign country. Al-Mallouhi has no known political affiliations, and sources close to the family are baffled by the charges. It is feared that she could be targeted for comments and poems published in her blog (http://talmallohi.blogspot.com).

Writing sample:

‘You will remain an example
To Gandhi’

I will walk with all walking people
And no
I will not stand still
Just to watch the passers by

This is my Homeland
In which
I have
A palm tree
A drop in a cloud
And a grave to protect me

This is more beautiful
Than all cities of fog
And cities which
Do not recognise me

My master:
I would like to have power
Even for one day
To build the “republic of feelings”

*********

People
Do not talk:
Speech is forbidden
Freedom is our aim

********
If you are not able to see
Except what light brings you
And you do not hear
Except what comes from noise around
That means
You are not able to see
Or to hear

(Translated from the Arabic by Ghias Aljundi)

Background
Freedom of expression is highly restricted in Syria and PEN has long been concerned about the numbers of writers, journalists, poets and bloggers detained for their writings and non-violent opposition activities. Many have been sentenced by the Exceptional Supreme Court whose practices fall short of international standards of fairness.

There are widespread reports of torture and other ill-treatment in Syria’s detention and interrogation centres, police stations and prisons. Detainees are often held for long periods incommunicado without charge or trial, during which time they are particularly at risk. PEN is also increasingly concerned about writer Raghdah Sa’id Hassan who was arrested by Tartus political security services on 10 February 2010 after writing her first novel. Raghda is still being held incommunicado without charge and has no access to either her family or a lawyer. Her current whereabouts remain unknown and there is mounting concern for her welfare.

For information about previous PEN International alerts, go tohttp://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/news/syria-novelist-arrested-fears-of-ill-treatment ).

What you can do:
Please send appeals:
• Expressing serious concern about the detention of writer and student Tal Al-Mallouhi, and seeking further details of the charges against her;
• Expressing concerns for Al-Mallouhi’s safety, and seeking assurances that she is not being tortured or ill-treated in detention which violates the Article 5 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);
• Urging that she is allowed full access to her family and lawyer, and any necessary medical treatment; and
• Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in violation of Article 19 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Syria is a state party;

Send appeals to:
President
Bashar al-Assad
Presidential Palace
al-Rashid Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 332 3410

Minister of Interior
Major Sa’id Mohamed Samour
Ministry of Interior
‘Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 222 3428

And copies to:
Minister of Foreign Affairs
His Excellency Walid al-Mua’llim
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Abu Rummaneh
al-Rashid Street
Damascus, Syrian Arab Republic
Fax: +963 11 332 7620

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Syria in your country if possible.

Please check with PEN International if sending appeals after 31 October 2010 and please send copies of any replies to Cathy McCann at cathy.mccann@internationalpen.org.uk.

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: cathy.mccann@internationalpen.org.uk

5. Uzbekistan: Dilmurod Saidov, Journalist
PEN International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Dilmurod Saidov, an independent Uzbek journalist, who was imprisoned for 12 years on 30 July 2009. Saidov was convicted of extortion and bribery, charges that international human rights observers regard as fabricated and motivated by a desire to punish Saidov for reporting on corruption in Samarkand. The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International believes he is another victim of a worrying trend in Uzbekistan, where dubious criminal charges are used to silence writers critical of the government.  Saidov, who has tuberculosis, has reportedly been denied adequate medical treatment in prison.

Dilmurod Saidov was arrested at his home in Tashkent on 22 February 2009. He was detained on charges of extortion, following allegations made by the head of a large agricultural machinery and tractor park in Samarkand. Saidov had been investigating claims made by local farmers that authorities in the region had been allegedly illegally confiscating their property. In April 2009, he was also charged with forgery.

In breech of Uzbek law, neither Saidov’s lawyer nor his family were informed in advance of the trial date on 1 June. He was convicted of both extortion and forgery in a closed session at the Tailak District Court and sentenced to 12 years in prison. When Vasila Inoyatova, director of the Uzbek human rights group Ezgulik, of which Saidov is a member, asked the court secretary why sentencing had been closed, she was told that it was «in the interest of security”. No further explanation was given.

Human Rights Watch has described the trial as a “travesty of justice” owing to a series of procedural violations and false testimony.  According to Saidov’s defence lawyer, key documents handed over to the investigator during the pre-trial investigation disappeared during the trial. Several key witnesses also withdrew their testimony, saying that they had been pressured into making false allegations against Saidov.

Saidov, 48, has been under pressure from government officials since 2005, when, in an article in the newspaper Advokat-Press, he criticised human rights violations in Uzbekistan. His articles have been published in local newspapers and also by Voice of Freedom, the internet-based news agency that covers human rights violations in Central Asia.
In late 2009, a tragic event added to Dilmurod Saidov’s suffering – his wife, Barno Jumanova, and their six-year-old daughter were killed in a car accident on their way to visit him in prison in Navoi.

The journalist also requires regular medical treatment for acute tuberculosis but judges have dismissed formal petitions to have him released on medical grounds.

In July 2009, Dilmurod Saidov described his plight in an open letter addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations. He wrote:

I have become “guilty”, though I am blameless. I am not afraid of death – I live awaiting it. I lived, worked and walked along the path of justice, caring for those around me. In spite of everything, I always have been, and always will be convinced that my work is right……..Along the path to the truth, innocent people have suffered. If I, and other journalists like me, are imprisoned, then instead of Justice making decisions it will be Lawlessness… I have lost my health, my family and my freedom. I think that for any person, nothing could hurt more than that. So, I will hope and wait for justice to triumph.

Background
Freedom of expression in Uzbekistan remains severely restricted and writers and journalists are regularly convicted on the basis of spurious allegations and fabricated evidence, with little regard given to fair and proper legal procedure.  Human rights defenders experience frequent harassment and threats of prosecution and the authorities block the activities of local and international non-governmental organisations.  Prison detainees also live in very poor conditions and are often subject to ill-treatment.

PEN International calls for Dilmurod Saidov’s immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Uzbekistan is a signatory.
Read a detailed summary by Human Rights Watch of the flaws in Saidov’s trial: Uzbekistan: Free Journalist Sentenced to over 12 Years
What you can do:
Letters of appeal protesting the conviction of Dilmurod Saidov and calling for his immediate and unconditional release can be sent to:

Islam A. Karimov
President of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Rezidentysia prezidenta
Ul. Uzbekistaniskaia 43
Tashkent
Uzbekistan
Fax: +998 71 139 5325
Email: presidents_office@press-service.uz

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Sara Whyatt at PEN International in London.
For further information please contact Sara Whyatt at the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 Email: sara.whyatt@internationalpen.org.uk

 

DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER 15 NOVEMBER 2009

INTERNATIONAL PEN WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE
DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER 15 NOVEMBER 2009

CAMEROON: Lapiro De Mbanga, Singer-songwriter
“Le Chef de l’Etat est pris au piège des réseaux qui l’obligent à rester au pouvoir alors qu’il est fatigué…Libérez le Big katika» («The Head of State is caught in the trap of networks that oblige him to stay in power even though he is tired… Free Big katika [President Biya’s nickname]»).
(An extract from Mbanga’s banned protest song “Constipated Constitution” – listen here: http://www.myspace.com/musiccensorship)

The well known singer-songwriter Lapiro De Mbanga (real name: Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) has been imprisoned since April 2008 and is serving a three-year sentence for alleged complicity in anti-government riots. Mbanga is known as an outspoken critic of the government, both as a songwriter and an opposition party member, and it is feared that the sentence was in fact passed in reprisal for his lyrics criticising the government.

Mbanga (52), who is also a member of the opposition party Social Democratic Front (SDF) and a traditional chief, was arrested in Mbanga City on 9 April 2008. He was accused of instigating mass demonstrations and strikes against the high cost of living which took place in Cameroon at the end of February 2008 and which the authorities say led to the deaths of at least 40 people. Formally charged on 9 July 2008, Mbanga was sentenced to three years in prison on 24 September. He was also ordered to pay a fine of 280 million CFA francs (US$640,000) payable to the company Société des Plantations de Mbanga (SPM) and the Ministry of Finance as compensation for damage caused during the riots.

However, according to the Media Foundation for Western Africa (MFWA), Mbanga’s arrest stemmed from a protest song he wrote entitled “Constipated Constitution” which warns President Biya of the dangers of the constitutional amendments, and which is reportedly banned on some Cameroonian TV and radio stations. The Constitutional Amendment Bill, which was adopted on 10 April 2008, allows an unlimited number of presidential mandates (President Biya is 76 and has been in office for 27 years), as well as granting the President immunity for any acts committed while in office.

There are concerns that Mbanga’s trial was unfair. The songwriter was reportedly convicted on the grounds that his presence during the protests, as a local leader, had galvanised the rioters. It was further argued that he would not have been allowed to film the events, as he did, had he been an outsider. This therefore made him an accomplice. However, according to local press reports, the riots were widely televised and none of the journalists who filmed the footage have been brought to trial. Moreover, Mbanga’s sentence is twice that received by the actual leaders of the riots, who were handed 18-month prison terms the month after the riots and were subsequently pardoned. The government has denied that the case is politically motivated.

On 24 June 2009, an appeal court in Yaoundé confirmed Mbanga’s three-year prison sentence. The fines for allegedly damaging property were also upheld, even though the company SPM had reportedly long since withdrawn from the case. Mbanga was also ordered to pay the costs of the trial. The fines and trial costs were to be paid immediately or be converted into an extra 18 months in prison. The appeal court ignored the defence’s arguments that as Mbanga was convicted as an accomplice he should not be given a heavier sentence than the main instigators of the riots, most of whom had by then been released. Mbanga’s lawyers planned to take the appeal to the Supreme Court in the capital Yaoundé. However, Mbanga said told Freedom of Musical Expression (Freemuse): “This is a political case, and I can now only hope of justice at an international court.”

Mbanga is being held in New Bell prison in Douala. Conditions, including food and hygiene, are said to be poor and it is understood he has developed health problems since his imprisonment. For more information and updates on Lapiro de Mbanga’s case, see Freemuse: Free Muse

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN protests the three-year prison sentence and exorbitant fine imposed on singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga for alleged complicity in anti-government protests. The WiPC fears that the sentence has been imposed in reprisal for Mbanga’s critical lyrics and, as such, is in violation of his right to freedom of expression. It calls on the Cameroonian authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

What you can do:
Letters of appeal calling for Mbanga’s immediate and unconditional release may be sent to:

President Paul Biya
Fax: +237 22 22 08 70
cellcom@prc.cm

Messages may also be sent via the Presidency’s website:
République du Cameroun – Présidence de la République

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Cameroon in your country if possible.

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Tamsin Mitchell at the International PEN head office in London – address below.

CHINA: Liu Xiaobo, Dissident writer
Before you enter the grave
Don’t forget to write me with your ashes
Do not forget to leave your address in the nether world

Liu Xiaobo, leading dissident writer, former President and current Board member of Independent Chinese PEN Centre, has been detained since 8 December 2008 for signing Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reforms and human rights. He was formally charged on 23 June 2009 with ‘incitement to subversion of state power’, and his case remains under investigation by the police. If prosecuted and convicted he faces up to fifteen years in jail. He is among over forty writers currently detained in the P.R.China.

Liu Xiaobo is among a large number of dissidents to have been detained or harassed after issuing an open letter calling on the National People’s Congress Standing Committee to ratify the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and launching Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reforms and human rights published on 9 December 2008. These activities were part of campaigns to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December), and were initially signed by over 300 scholars, journalists, freelance writers and activists and now have over 8000 signatories from throughout China. Charter 08 can be found in English:
http://www.pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/3552/prmID/1610

Liu Xiaobo was held under Residential Surveillance, a form of pre-trial detention, at an undisclosed location in Beijing until he was formally charged on 24 June 2009. According to the official Xinhua news agency, he is accused of ‘spreading rumours and defaming the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialist system in recent years’. He is said to have confessed to the charges against him. Liu Xiaobo is being held at the No. 1 Detention Centre of Beijing City.  He has been held with very limited access to his lawyer and family visits throughout his detention.
Liu Xiaobo first received support from International PEN in 1989, when he was one of a group of writers and intellectuals given the label the “Black Hands of Beijing” by the government and arrested for their part in the Tiananmen Square protests. Prior to his current arrest, Liu has spent a total of five years in prison, including a three year sentence passed in 1996, and has suffered frequent short arrests, harassment and censorship. In January 2009 over 300 writers signed a petition calling for his release.

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN considers the continued detention of Liu Xiaobo to be a breach of international standards guaranteeing freedom of expression and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

What you can do:

Letters of appeal calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo may be sent to:
His Excellency Hu Jintao
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032
P.R. China

Please note that there are no fax numbers for the Chinese authorities. WiPC recommends that you copy your appeal to the Chinese embassy in your country asking them to forward it and welcoming any comments.

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for China in your country if possible.

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Cathy McCann at the International PEN head office in London – address below.

IRAN: Maziar Bahari, journalist, editor, playwright and film-maker
Leading Canadian-Iranian journalist, editor, playwright and film-maker Maziar Bahari has been detained without charge since 21 June 2009. He is among scores of journalists and leading reformists to have been arrested in Iran following the disputed presidential elections on 12 June 2009. Concerns for his well-being are mounting.

According to PEN’s information, Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari, who has lived and worked in Tehran for the past ten years and who has dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship, was arrested on 21 June 2009. He remains detained with minimal contact to his wife and family and no access to a lawyer., He is believed to be among around one hundred opposition leaders and dissidents accused of fomenting a ‘velvet revolution’ although he still hasn’t been formally charged. International PEN is gravely concerned by an alleged ‘confession’ published on 30 June 2009 by an Iranian state news agency, in which Bahari admits to participating in an alleged Western media effort to promote irresponsible reporting in Iran. Bahari’s arrest is part of a major crackdown on dissent which has seen unprecedented restrictions on the foreign media in Iran. There have been widespread arbitrary arrests of journalists and leading reformist figures, in flagrant violation of Iran’s commitments to human rights, free expression and legal due process under the Iranian constitution.

Maziar Bahari, aged 42, is a widely respected and award-winning commentator on social and cultural issues both within Iran and beyond. He is one of the few film-makers to have worked in Iraq since the U.S-led 2003 invasion, and in addition to two documentary films he made about the Iraq war, he has written two plays based on his reporter’s notes and interview scripts, A Fairly Justified Revenge and Romance in Abu Ghraib. His colleague and friend Malu Halasa, with whom he edited the anthology Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirations (2009), describes his plays as ‘rare examples of the crossover between Middle East reportage and theatre’.

Maziar Bahari has made at least ten films in as many years, which have brought him both controversy and acclaim. He explores difficult social issues including drug addiction, women’s rights and homosexuality. The Harvard Film Archives describe his films as providing ‘…a glimpse inside contemporary Iranian culture as they reveal the human element behind the headlines and capture cultural truths through the lens of individual experience.’ Since 1998, Bahari has been Newsweek magazine’s Iran correspondent.

Maziar Bahari and his wife are expecting their first child in late 2009.

International PEN reminds the Iranian authorities of their obligations to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a signatory, and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Maziar Bahari and all those currently detained in Iran for peacefully exercising their right to free expression.

Read Bahari’s article on the current protests published on 17 June 2009:
Who’s Behind Tehran’s Violence?

Read a moving testimony to Bahari’s work by Malu Halasa:

Iran: what Ahmadinejad won’t mention at the UN

What you can do:

Letters of appeal calling for the release of Maziar Bahari may be sent to:
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei,
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran

Head of the Judiciary
His Excellency
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Ministry of Justice, Park-e Shahr,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email:   via Judiciary website: Iranjudiciary.org/feedback_en.html
Salutation: Your Excellency

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Cathy McCann at the International PEN head office in London – address below.

MEXICO: Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, anthropologist, author and activist (d. 26 July 2008)
Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, anthropologist, author and indigenous rights activist, was beaten to death in Guerrero state, southern Mexico, on 25/26 July 2008. More than a year later, there has been silence from the Mexican authorities on the subject of the investigation and the crime remains unsolved. Gutiérrez is just one of 25 writers murdered in Mexico between 2004 and today, the majority of them print journalists.

Gutiérrez, anthropologist, linguist, author of a number of books on the indigenous people of Guerrero state (see Background below for titles) and activist for the rights of the Amuzgo indigenous people, was killed late on 25 July 2008 or the early hours of 26 July 2008 while driving towards the capital of Guerrero, Chilpancingo de los Bravo. His body was found covered in bruises and cuts by the side of the Acapulco-Pinotepa highway near La Caridad community in the municipality of San Marcos, Guerrero, on the morning of 26 July 2008. Although initial police reports suggested that Gutiérrez died as the result of a car accident, it was later thought that he was beaten to death. According to his family, the vehicle in which Gutiérrez was travelling was untouched and only his filming equipment had been stolen.

A few days before his death, between 23 and 25 July 2008, Gutiérrez had visited the Suljaa’ and Cozoyoapan communities in Costa Chica, Guerrero, in connection with a documentary film he was making on indigenous cultures and traditions. Gutiérrez had been carrying out research into the indigenous people of southern Guerrero for more than 20 years, particularly in Costa Chica, and had been involved in various cultural projects there, including the community radio station Radio Ñomndaa/ La Palabra del Agua (The Word of the Water) and the establishment of the first Amuzgo community library. During his last visit to the area, Gutiérrez documented alleged human rights violations on the part of the authorities against the staff of Radio Ñomndaa, including an interview with one of the station’s founders, which he reportedly intended to include in his documentary.

According to local press reports at the time of Gutiérrez’ death, one lead pointed to the involvement of Aceadeth Rocha Ramírez, mayor of Xochistlahuaca municipality in Costa Chica. Rocha is allegedly one of a number of local political leaders opposed to indigenous movements and Radio Ñomndaa. Another lead reportedly suggested that Gutiérrez may have angered the authorities by filming members of the Federal Investigations Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigación, AFI) while they were conducting a raid on the radio station.

In August 2008, PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee and PEN members wrote to the Guerrero state and federal authorities asking them to ensure that a full and impartial investigation into Gutiérrez’ murder was carried out and that those responsible were brought to justice. However, more than a year after the killing, there has been no response from the authorities; nor have we received any reports on the progress of the investigation from other sources. Our understanding is that the crime remains unsolved.

This is particularly worrying given that Gutiérrez is just one of 25 writers murdered in Mexico between 2004 and today, the majority of them print journalists. Four other print journalists have disappeared in the same period. It is our understanding that few if any of these crimes have been properly investigated or punished. Given this bleak panorama, we are understandably concerned that Gutiérrez’ murder should not meet with the same impunity.

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN requests assurances from the Mexican authorities that a full and impartial investigation into the murder of Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila is being carried out, and details of any progress in the investigation to date. It also calls on the authorities to renew their efforts to throw light on all other unsolved crimes against writers, including the 24 murders and four disappearances of print journalists since 2004.

What you can do:

Letters of appeal calling for a full and impartial investigation into the murder of Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, and a public update on progress into the investigation, may be sent to:

Lic. Arturo Chávez Chávez
Procurador General de la República
Av. Paseo de Reforma No. 211-213, Piso 16
Col. Cuauhtémoc, Defegacion Cuauhtémoc
México D.F. C.P. 06500
Fax: + 52 55 53 46 0908 (if a voice answers, ask «tono de fax, por favor»)
E-mail: ofproc@pgr.gob.mx
Salutation: Señor Procurador General/Dear Attorney General

Please also send copies of your appeals to the Mexican Embassy in your country.
See
Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Tamsin Mitchell at the International PEN head office in London – address below.

RUSSIA: Natalia Estemirova, journalist and human rights defender
Courageous human rights defender and journalist, Natalia Estemirova was abducted and murdered on 15 July 2009. Estemirova, of Russian-Chechen descent, worked at the Grozny office of Memorial, Russia’s best known rights organisation. Tenacious in her investigations into torture, killings and other abuses in Chechnya, Estemirova was awarded for her courage by the Swedish and European parliaments.

Witnesses reported hearing Estemirova calling out that she was being kidnapped as she was forced into a van around 8.30 am as she left her home in Grozny. Her body was found some hours later in woodland in neighbouring Ingushetia. She had been shot in the head and chest.  Aged 50, Natalia Estemirova leaves behind her 15-year old daughter.

Killings, abductions, beatings, the meting out of punishment for breaches of religious customs and other abuses are routinely carried out by forces of the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov, who has been praised by the Russian government for bringing stability to Chechnya, is unashamed of his record, publicly acknowledging that he uses extreme force to deal with the “bad guys”. In one notorious incident, he reportedly called Natalia Estemirova to his office to complain about her criticism of his forces. He is said to have told her: «Yes, my arms are up to the elbows in blood. And I am not ashamed of that. I will kill and kill bad people.» Estemirova was apparently not impressed and told him so. Even after her death, Kadyrov’s disdain for her was apparent. In an interview shortly after her killing, he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that she “ never had any honor or sense of shame ….she would say stupid things”. For details of this interview Click here Memorial has implicated President Kadyrov in her murder, an accusation that has led Kadyrov to bring a defamation case against its head, Oleg Orlov.

Despite knowing the acute danger, Estemirova continued to research and advocate on abuses in Chechnya, most recently a spate of house burnings by government backed militia. She has been commended by local and foreign journalists for whom she was an important source of independent information in the conflict.

Natalia Estemirova was a close colleague of Anna Politkovskaya, who herself was assassinated in October 2006. In 2007 Estemirova was the first recipient of the annual Anna Politkovskaya Award given by the Reach All Women in War campaigning group. From 2001 until Politkovskaya’s murder, the two had worked together to expose abuses carried out by Russian armed forces in Chechnya and by Moscow-backed Chechen officials. Estemirova’s acceptance speech is a moving and harrowing description of their work together. She wrote:

No, [Politkovskaya] was not reckless. She was well aware of the gravity of the situation, particularly when she learned, in March 2002, that the interservice police detachment from Khanty-Mansijsk was coming back to Chechnya. Her fears were not unfounded–one day a car without a license plate arrived at the Murdalovs’ house. Masked gunmen came in and warned the family that they should take care, as the Khantys were around. This was not an idle warning. Some people did break into the house in the middle of the night soon after that, but then left saying that they had the wrong address.    For the full speech Click here

Shortly after Estemirova’s murder, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made an apparently encouraging statement ensuring that an inquiry has been ordered into her death. About the journalist he said: “[Estemirova’s] professional activities are something that any normal country needs. She was doing a very useful job. She spoke the truth.»

If human rights defenders such as Estemirova are truly valued as Medvedev suggests, much more needs to be done to apprehend and convict those who threaten and kill them. International PEN calls for full and impartial investigation and urges that those responsible be brought to justice.

What you can do:
Letters of appeal calling for a full and impartial investigation into Natalia Estemirova’s murder may be sent to:
Addresses:
Mr Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
Kremlin
Moscow
Russia
Fax: +7 495 206 5173 / 206 6277
Email: president@gov.ru

For further information please contact Sara Whyatt at the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (02) 20 7405 0338 Fax: +44 (0) 20 74050339 Email: sara.whyatt@internationalpen.org.uk

DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER 15 NOVEMBER 2008

INTERNATIONAL PEN`s WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE

DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER 15 NOVEMBER 2008

In the past year, the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN has monitored over 1,000 attacks on writers and journalists in 90 countries, 200 of whom are serving long prison, others have been threatened, harassed and attacked. Tragically, since 15 November 2007, 31 have been killed, many clearly in the pursuit of their professions, others in unclear circumstances.

On 15 November every year, PEN’s membership of writers world wide celebrates the courage of others in standing up against repression and for the principle of freedom of expression and the right to information. This Day of the Imprisoned Writer sees writers world wide sending appeals, staging events, and commemorating their fellow colleagues. Each year PEN focuses on five cases – one from each world region and each illustrating the type of repression that is faced daily by those who question, challenge and illustrate daily lives through their writings.

This year the focus cases are:

Azerbaijan: Eynullah Fatullayev – a journalist serving an eight year prison term for his political commentary and investigations into the murder of another journalist in 2005;

China: Tsering Woeser – a Tibetan writer and poet who writes in Chinese and who has been banned and suffers harassment for her writings on Tibet;

Iran: Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand – a journalist and Kurdish rights activist serving an 11-year prison sentence;

Peru: Melissa Rocío Patiño Hinostroza – a student and poet currently on trial for alleged links to a terrorist organisation, although there is no evidence of her having carried out or advocated violence;

Zimbabwe: Writers, Cast and Crew – The Crocodile of Zambezi – a play that has been banned and led to actors and crew being beaten, and the playwrights threatened.

DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER 2007

INTERNATIONAL PEN’S WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE
DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER 15 NOVEMBER 2007

15 November 2007 marks the Day of the Imprisoned Writer (DoIW) and the Writers in Prison Committee hereby appeals to all PEN centres to take part as actively as possible to show solidarity and express a unified voice on behalf of persecuted writers.

Focus Cases 2007
This year the focus will be on:

·    Burma (Myanmar) – Zargana – a well-known comedian and poet who was among the many arrested in the recent crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators that is still under way;
·    Cuba – Normando Hernández González – a journalist imprisoned under crackdown on dissidents in 2003 and since held in dire prison conditions;
·    Gambia – Fatou Jaw Manneh – a journalist on trial and facing a heavy sentence on charges of sedition for her articles criticising the Gambian president.
·    Iran – Yaghoub Yadali –  a novelist given a one year sentence for his fictional characterisation of the ethnic minority of which he is himself a member;
·    Uzbekistan – Jamshid Karimov – a journalist who has covered human rights abuses, and wrote critical articles and who has been held in psychiatric detention for over a year.

Myanmar (Burma)
Zargana
Comedian, poet and activist
Maung Thura (‘Zargana’) is a comedian, poet and opposition activist who has been arrested during the demonstrations in Burma that have broken out in late September 2007. Zargana was arrested on 25 September 2007 for his support of the monks demonstrating in the capital, Rangoon. He is thought to remain detained, and there are mounting concerns for his well-being and safety.

Zargana spent several years in prison in the early 1990s for his opposition activities. During that time he was taken up as a main case by the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN.
Maung Thura, more commonly known by his nick-name ‘Zargana’ , is Burma’s leading comedian, popular for his political satires.  Zargana revived the traditional Burmese role of the court jester who is the only person allowed to criticise the leader. When he joined a travelling troupe of comedians in 1982, Zargana was optimistic about the role of the comic, saying, ‘If the government takes a wrong step in the morning, we can criticise it at night…’ For a while, the military authorities tolerated him, and even on occasion invited him to perform for them. But as the political climate deteriorated, the authorities lost patience and attempts were made to silence him.

Zargana, whose pseudonym means ‘tweezers’  referring  to his years spent training as a dentist, was born in January 1962, the youngest son of  of writers Nan Nyunt Swe and Daw Kyi Oo. From a young age he accompanied his parents on speaking tours, and entertained people by giving performances and doing impersonations.. He went on to form a dance troupe and a drama group, which both performed on national television, and between 1985 and 1988 he played lead roles in four films.

During the 1988 uprising, Zaragana gave speeches at the Rangoon General Hospital which attracted large audiences and won rousing ovations.He quickly became a leading voice of the student pro-democracy movement although he never officially joined a political party. His crowd-pulling ability was second only to that of Aung San Suu Kyi, and his jokes were passed on by word of mouth throughout Myanmar.

Zargana was first arrested in October 1988 after making fun of  the government, and freed six months later. However, on 19 May 1990, he impersonated General Saw Maung, former head of the military government, to a crowd of thousands at the Yankin Teacher’s Training College Stadium in Rangoon. He was arrested shortly afterwards, and sentenced to five years in prison. He was held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell in Rangoon’s Insein Prison, where he began writing poetry.

In prison, Zargana was banned from reading and writing, so he scratched his poems on the floor of his cell using a piece of pottery before committing them to memory. These poems were only written down after his release.

After his release  in 1994, Zargana was banned from performing in public, but continued to make tapes and videos which were strictly censored by the authorities. In May 1996, after speaking out against censorship to a foreign journalist, he was banned from performing his work altogether, and stripped of his freedom to write and publish. He continues to defy the authorities, spreading his jokes by word of mouth.

International PEN is calling for the release of Zargana and all others detained in Myanmar for their peaceful opposition activities.

What you can do:
While the situation in Burma remains critical, it is not advised to write to the Burmese authorities and letters of appeal should be sent to the Burmese embassy in your country protesting the arrest of Zargana as being in direct violation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and calling for his release. If there is no diplomatic representative in your country, please contact the International PEN WiPC office in London for advice.

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Cathy McCann at the International PEN head office in London: Writers in Prison Committee London Office: Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER UK cathy.mccann@internationalpen.org.uk

For more information and a photo please see:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/5349552.stm

The following poem by Zargana is published in the International PEN anthology of writings from prison

Oblivion
At night the moonbeams snap.
The stars are suffocated.
That maligned, unhappy barn owl
screeches out its grief.
The old train on the tracks
hurtles to its destruction
wheezing out its last breath.

And I? I send my thoughts beyond these walls
day in, day out, from dawn to night
(from dawn to night, day in day out)
I dream the endless daydream,
dream the endless journey
through the night, fretting,
champing at the bit:

the one I call for does not come,
the one I wait for never appears
Ah, if I could only stop the
thinking, seeing, hearing, dreaming….

I wouldn’t feel a thing.

ZARGANA, Burma, 1988
The translator has asked to remain anonymous.

From This Prison Where I Live published by Cassell, 1996, ed. Siobhan Dowd ISBN 0-304-33306-9

DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER 2006

INTERNATIONAL PEN
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE
DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER
15 NOVEMBER 2006

 

Summary
«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.

Turkey:
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.

Appeals to:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
06573 Ankara
Turkey
Fax: +90 312 417 0476

Foreign Minister and State Minister for Human Rights
Mr Abdullah Gül
Office of the Prime Minister
Basbakanlik
06573 Ankara
Turkey
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 [2004]. 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. “

Ethiopia:
Wesenseged Gebrekidan
Journalist
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.”

Appeal address

H.E. Ato Meles Zenawi
Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Office of the Prime Minister
P.O. Box 1031
Addis Ababa
Ethiopia
E-mail: national.parliament@telecom.net.et

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.”

Mexico:
Lydia Cacho
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.

Appeal addresses
President
Lic. Vicente Fox Quesada
Presidente de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos,
Palacio Nacional Patio de Honor
Col. Centro
06067, Distrito Federal
México
Fax : +52 55 5277 2376
E-mail: vicente.fox.quesada@presidencia.gob.mx

Internal Affairs Minister
Carlos María Abascal Carranza
Secretario de Gobernación,
Secretaría de Gobernación,
Bucareli No. 99
Col. Juárez
Delegación Cuahtémoc
06600 Distrito Federal
México

Sample of Writing by Lydia Cacho

Excerpt from:
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.

 

China:
Yang Xiaoqing
Journalist
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.

Appeals to:
His Excellency Hu Jintao
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032
P.R.China

Egypt:
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.
Appeals to:
His Excellency Mohammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Republic of Egypt
Heliopolis
Egypt.
Fax: +202 390 199