William Nygaard elected new president of Norwegian PEN

Publisher and former director of the Aschehoug publishing house, William Nygaard,  was last night elected new president of Norwegian PEN. Nygaard has been a board member for many years and is now replacing Anders Heger who steps down after chairing Norwegian PEN since 2007.

William Nygaard was publisher and CEO at Aschehoug  from 1974 to 2010 and chairman of the Norwegian Publishers Association from 1987 to 1990.  He was elected Chairman of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation in 2010.

Nygaard has always been an outspoken advocate for freedom of speech. He was awarded the Freedom of Expression award from «Fritt Ord» in 1994 and the Torgny Segerstedt award in 1998. He has been appointed «Knight of premier class of the St. Olav order» and – along with Salman Rushdie – an honorary doctorate at the University of Tromsø.

«Norwegian PEN’s current goal is to engage an increasing number of younger people in the Norwegian, and not least, international free expression work and stimulate interest in universal human rights,» said Nygaard after he was elected.

Oslo, April 24, 2013

Death Threats and Attacks on Freedom of Expression Intensify in Tunisia

Norwegian PEN, WAN-IFRA, International Pen & Index on Censorship

Tunis, 28 February 2013: Death threats, physical attacks, an emergence of hate speech and accusations of official censorship of critical media have escalated the perilous situation for freedom of expression in Tunisia.

As the political crisis deepens following the assassination of outspoken left-wing political leader Chokri Belaiid, and the resignation on Tuesday of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, attacks against journalists and writers have intensified.

The undersigned members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) call on the Tunisian government to condemn such attacks, guarantee the safety of journalists, writers and media workers reporting on the on-going crisis, and implement legislation available to them that better protects freedom of expression.

Death Threats
Tunisia has witnessed an unprecedented campaign of death threats against journalists, writers and media workers critical of the ruling Ennahda Party and its handling of recent events.

Most disturbingly, a ‘death list’ of names of prominent writers and journalists who supposedly “antagonise Islam” is said to be in circulation, with writer and journalist Naziha Rjiba one of those to have received anonymous telephone death threats. It is widely believed the League for Protecting the Revolution – said to have close ties with the Ennahda Party – issued the list. Rjiba received a call shortly after the assassination of Mr. Belaiid in which she was warned to be silent or else “she would be next.”

On 11 February, journalists Nawfel El Wartani and Haythem El Maaki from Radio Mosaique FM had their lives threatened for their coverage of Mr. Belaiid’s funeral. The station had already been the recipient of threats and had applied to the Ministry of Interior for protection.

Veteran journalist and former head of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT), Naji Bghouri, has received a number of death threats via email and mobile phone. The latest incident occurred on 14 February when a member of the League for Protecting the Revolution reportedly shouted, “soon, you’ll be killed.” Najiba Hamrouni, current head of the SNJ, has also reported receiving death threats from unknown callers who accuse him of defaming the Ennahda Party and “insulting Islam”.

IFEX members are seriously alarmed by these developments and call on the Tunisian authorities to urgently provide those targeted with a safe environment in which to carry out their work. They also call on authorities to fully investigate those responsible for issuing such threats so as to deter a climate of impunity in the country.

Attacks on Freedom of Expression Escalate
IFEX members consider the 22 January decision by deputy leader of the National Constitutional Assembly, Mehrezia Labidi, to ban journalists from working inside the Assembly as a deliberate attempt to deny access to information, and call on the authorities to recall the decision.

Harassment and physical attacks are also on the rise. On 24 January police interrogated Al-Shrouk journalist, Mona Bou Azizi, following a complaint by a local official over her coverage of events in the city of Qarjani. Bou Azizi has been repeatedly harassed and prevented from carrying out her work.

Reports suggest that security forces have deliberately targeted journalists covering the fallout from the assassination of Mr. Belaid. On 7 February, police in Gafsa City attacked Tunisia Africa News Agency journalist, Farida al-Mabrouki as she covered clashes with protesters. In a similar incident, Shraz Al-Khunaisi, a journalist with Internet TV channel Tunis Al-Ikhbariya, was also attacked and dragged to the ground by police.

Another journalist for the same channel, Ahmad Akkouni, was hit by a rubber bullet while covering clashes between police and protesters in Tunis. The following day, police officers physically attacked Tarek Al-Ghorani, a photographer and staff member with the Tunis Centre for the Freedom of Press, as he took pictures at Mr. Belaid’s funeral.
In addition, rapper and playwright Muhammad Amin al- Hamzawi required hospital treatment following a severe assault by up to five police officers that took place as he participated in the funeral. Al-Hamzawi is known for songs criticising police attacks on protesters.

Hate speech
Evidence is emerging that the media are being subjected to a deliberate campaign of hate speech during prayer ceremonies and in political discourses. Prayer leaders in several mosques across Tunisia have blamed journalists and writers for either “insulting Islam” or “hindering the work of the Ennahda Party”, while journalists criticised by politicians have reportedly been the victims of reprisal attacks.

During the 15 February rally held in support of the Ennahda Party in Tunis, widespread anti-media rhetoric was heard from speakers and marchers alike. Shouts of “shameless media” accompanied physical attacks against journalists covering the event. A prevalence of graffiti slogans stating “Journalists are liars” and “Journalists are hypocrites” can also be seen on the streets of the capital.

Broadcast woes
The independence of the broadcast media has been called further into question following the unplanned proliferation of new radio stations and TV channels across the country, many of which are owned by pro-government, Ennahda Party supporters.

The government has also been accused of silencing a number of emerging independent radio stations by withdrawing frequencies under the pretext of unpaid license fees. On 12 February, Oxygen Radio Bizerte was shut down for 24 hours, a move seen by Tunisian human rights groups as political interference aimed at silencing critical voices.

IFEX members repeat calls for the Tunisian authorities to appoint an independent body that has the power to organise the audio-visual licensing system fairly and without political bias.

Legislative stalling
Despite public statements on 10 December 2012 announcing the adoption of long-overdue legislation, and with it the establishment of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communications (HAICA), IFEX members note little change regarding the implementation of the government’s media laws, particularly in respect to decrees 115 and 116 concerning media freedom.

As a crucial step in guaranteeing the safety of journalists, IFEX members again call on the Tunisian authorities to implement these decrees as a matter of urgency. For the independence of the media to be assured, wider consultation should also be sought from civil society and journalist organisations to supply HAICA with a broader, more legitimate mandate for chang

IFEX members, including many of the signatories to this statement, have cooperated since 2005 through the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) to support Tunisian free expression rights on the national, regional and international stage. IFEX members from the TMG group continue this support, collectively and as individual organisations.

PEN Belarus appologize for the regime’s treatment of PEN-delegation

Secretary General in Norwegian PEN Carl Morten Iversen
Norwegian PEN board member William Nygaard
Publisher Trygve Åslund
Danish PEN board member Niels-Ivar Larsen

Respected  friends

Please accept my appologies for the awful behaviour of the Belarusian regime.  By accepting money for your visas and then denying you entry to the country, hold you at the airport without food or water and then kick you out of the country as if you were criminals, the regime has again, for the whole world, demonstrated its brutality and lack of respect for its own citizens and their guests.  And, basically, a lack of respect for human rights.  At the same time this is a demonstration of the regime´s attitude to culture in the broadest possible sense.

Also, with my appologies, I would like to thank you for all you do in order to help the Belarusian culture and literature to resist and survive during these very difficult times for the Belarusian people.  Vi  sense your solidarity and your support, and that gives us the strength to look at the future with more hope.  Even today, when it may seem like the future holds very little hope.  Historically, Belarus is a European country and will remain so, regardless of the efforts the regime is making in order to change the country at its discretion.  I think that, with your help and with support from all Europeans, Belarus will return to Europe.

Again, let me appologize and thank you.

Vladimir Nekljajev
Honorable member of Belarusian PEN, former presidential candidate

PEN-delegation denied entry to Belarus

PEN-delegation denied entry to Belarus

A delegation with members from Norwegian and Danish PEN was denied visa at the Minsk airport and had to return home.

At the Minsk airport in Belarus last Monday morning (December 5th around 2 am local time), a delegation with members from Norwegian PEN (boardmember William Nygaard, publisher Trygve Åslund and secretary general Carl Morten Iversen) and Danish PEN (board member and journalist Niels-Ivar Larsen) was denied visa and, consequently, entry to Belarus. Over the next two days, they were supposed to meet with representatives from PEN Belarus, the Belarusian Writers Union, BAJ – the Belarusian Association of Journalists and local writers and publishers. The trip had been planned for months.

Upon arrival at the Minsk airport early Monday morning (01.00 a.m.) they wanted to obtain visitors visa for a two days stay in Minsk. The group travelled as tourists as this is the only way to get into the country. Invited by a local travel agency, the visa applications, as well as air transport and hotel booking, was handled by a local Norwegian travel agent specializing in Eastern-Europe. All the paperwork was correctly presented to the visa-officer at the airport visa office at the Minsk 2 International Airport.

«The officers initial reaction upon presentation of my application and passport, was that he wanted to talk to the person who was going to pick us up and drive us to Minsk», says Iversen who had organized the trip. «I called him and they talked. Obviously, this was not enough and the officer then wanted to talk to representatives from the travel agency that invited us. I called an emergency number without results. I also called the Norwegian travel agent who tried to help, but with no result. I told the officer that no body picked up as it was the middle of the night – 3 am local time. His response was that we should have arrived with an earlier flight».

The atmosphere at the visa-office counter was building as two ladies arriving from Macedonia got into a heather argument with the officer. After they left, the officer seemingly started processing our visa applications. At one point he asked for the visa fee and received a total of 360 Euros for four visas. After about 20 minutes, a lady in uniform arrived, got our passports from the officer, told us to stay and wait and then disappeared. After a little while we were escorted down to luggage reception to get our luggage as the airport was closing. We were then escorted back to the visa office. An airport or boarder police official then escorted us to a transit area were we were told to wait, guarded by a female officer. Very little information was given, but we understood that we had to wait until the morning flights departed. We would then be sent back to Norway and Denmark. We would get our passports upon boarding of the return flights.

No further explanation was given. At one point, a female customs officers who spoke decent English arrived and explained that this was the decision of the Consul and the decision could not be tried. She also said that it was the rights of the Belarusian authorities to deny entry, while still claiming the visa fee.

We were kept in a place with no access to food or water. At one point, one of the members of the delegation who had a heart condition, said he needed water to take his medicine. The female guard did not understand and thought he wanted a doctor. After a while, a female doctor arrived and wanted to examine him, something he denied – he only wanted water. The incident lead to a heathed discussion between the doctor and our guard. Around 6 in the morning local time, two seats were available on the morning flight to Frankfurt, and two of the delegation members left. They received their passports back at the gate. The two remaining delegation members left on a return flight our of Minsk at 3.30 in the afternoon.

Said delegation member Nygaard to the Norwegian daily Aftenposten´s web-edition: «It is important for us to show the world what kind of regime that rules in Belarus – this is among the issues PEN is focusing on. Belarus is a UN-member and it is important that we react when they behave like this.»

Oslo, December 5th 2011

Norsk PEN forsvarer Wikileaks

Norsk PEN forsvarer Wikileaks rett til å gjøre vesentlig informasjon tilgjengelig.  Internasjonale informasjonsnettverk bidrar til at folk oppdager nye fakta og stiller regjeringer til ansvar. Norsk PEN ser dette som en naturlig forlengelse av sitt årelange engasjement for ytringsfrihet, krav om åpenhet og befolkningens rett til informasjon og kunnskap.

I deler av Wikileaks´ virksomhet kan ytringsfrihet komme i konflikt med hensynet til personvern og sikkerhet. Politiske kulturer og regimer som bygger på hemmelighold, utfordres av ny kommunikasjonsteknologi. Selv om brudd på taushetsplikt er lovstridig, er Wikileaks publisering av dokumenter ingen forbrytelse.  Wikileaks framstår nå tydeligere som et medienettverk med en bevisst strategi for porsjonering, redigering og publisering av fortrolig eller hemmeligholdt informasjon. Det innebærer at organisasjonen må ta på alvor det ansvar ethvert medium har for å bedrive kildekritikk, ikke undergrave enkeltpersoners eller nasjoners sikkerhet og for å respektere menneskers rett til privatliv.

Norsk PEN advarer mot ekstreme utfall i debatten om Wikileaks. Journalister og bloggeres situasjon er utsatt i mange deler av verden. Antallet journalister som blir fysisk angrepet, fengslet og drept, uten at de skyldige blir stilt til ansvar, er et langt større sikkerhetsproblem enn offentliggjøring av interne dokumenter.  Norsk PEN fordømmer på det sterkeste enhver oppfordring til angrep eller drap på journalister.

Norsk PEN er bekymret over meldinger om at enkelte web-sider har sluttet å formidle Wikileaks av frykt for konsekvensene.  Vi er også urolige over informasjon om at enkeltpersoner trues med rettsforfølgelse, dersom de leser informasjon fra organisasjonen.  Norsk PEN fordømmer slike måter å måter å møte frie ytringer på. Norsk PEN oppfordrer både stater og andre aktører til å respektere ytringsfriheten.  Regjeringer som overfor andre nasjoner argumenterer for fri informasjonsflyt på internett, må respektere at dette også innebærer publisering av ufordelaktig informasjon og kritikk av egen politikk og egne vurderinger.

Tale til Kjell Olaf Jensen, mottager av Norsk PENs første ærespris

La meg først kom med en tilståelse. Det er ikke slik at Norsk PEN har følt et intenst behov for å dele ut en æresprispris, og deretter har sett seg om i egne rekker etter en verdig kandidat.
Det er omvendt. Det er slik at vi i mange år nå har hatt lyst til å gjøre ære på en som har gjort mer for denne organisasjonen enn noen andre. Og om det nå er slik at han ikke kan få Ossietzkyprisen, fordi han sitter for tett på beslutningsprosessen, her som i alle andre spørsmål som vedkommer PEN-klubben, ja så får vi heller innstifte en ny pris, så vi endelig kan få fortalt Kjell Olaf Jensen hvor mye vi setter pris på ham. At vi er klar over hvilken uvurderlig innsats han har nedlagt i det frie ords tjeneste. Og at PEN-klubben ikke ville vært i nærheten av hva den er i dag, uten hans intense og vedvarende tilstedeværelse, som en uutømmelig kunnskapsbrønn, som en lun og pålitelig samarbeidspartner, men først og fremst og mer enn noe annet: Som vår selvskrevne leder gjennom et tiår.
Det å arbeide sammen med, eller reise sammen med, eller bare være sammen med, eller – som noen få av oss har fått gleden av å oppleve – å dele vennskap med Kjell Olaf, innebærer ikke bare å få ta del i hans store kunnskap. Han er en samler av opplysninger som med nærmest nerdete begeistring legger navn, hendelser, ords betydning, romaners handlingsløp og alt mulig annet i velordnede skuffer i sitt ugredde hode. Herfra kan han når som helst trekke det frem, og med presis gjengivelse ned til siste circumflex dele det med verden. Hvilket han mer enn gjerne gjør.
Men å være i hans nærhet innebærer også å merke denne helt selvfølgelige utøvelsen av hva jeg vil kalle «mild autoritet». Man vet, før han har snakket, at nå kommer det noe verd å lytte til. Og når han gir et råd, hvilket han gjør med raus, men ikke påtrengende hånd, vet man at det er vel verd å følge.
Kjell Olafs arbeidskapasitet synes uutømmelig, bare overgått av hans engasjement. Jeg vet ingen om hvem termen «kjempende intellektuell» er så passende. En ting er hans aldri sviktende innsats for PEN-klubben, ikke bare den norske, men også den internasjonale. La meg smette inn her en hilsen fra siste verdenskongress, i Linz i Østerrike. Eller rettere sagt, en flom av hilsener, fra alle verdenshjørner, fra dine samarbeidspartnere og venner på fem kontinenter.
En annen ting, som det er umulig å la ligge unevnt, er hans arbeid med det internasjonale fribysystemet. Det er ingen overdrivelse å si at uten Kjell Olaf Jensen, er det mer enn tvilsomt om fribynettverket ville ha overlevd.
Det er ingen liten livsgjerning – å vite at det går forfattere rundt i verden som ikke ville ha levd uten en manns ustoppelige kamp mot internasjonale despoter og norsk byråkrati. Det er ingen liten ting å vite at det daglig utales og skrives ord som ikke ville fått lys eller luft, om det ikke var for en aldri hvilende vilje, en aldri sviktende strøm av mailer, telefoner, brev og innstendige oppfordringer fra et lite hvitt hus på Vålerenga.
Da PEN-klubben i fjor utga en antologi over norske fribyforfattere, var det – jeg hadde nær sagt ‘som vanlig’ – Kjell Olaf som gjorde mesteparten av arbeidet. Han samlet tekstene, han oversatte de fleste av dem, med sin sedvanlige blanding av presist språk og øre for tekstens poesi, OG: Han foreslo dens tittel.
Boken heter «De stemmeløses røst». Idet mailen med tittelforslaget tikket inn, visste jeg at nok en gang hadde Jensen truffet blink. Men også på en måte han selv er alt for beskjeden til å innse. De tre ordene oppsummerer presist den gjerning han har påtatt seg, og som han utfører med en stahet, en vilje og en arbeidsomhet som gjør at det er umulig å komme forbi ham.
Han vil gi stemmen tilbake til dem som er blitt den fratatt.
Kjell Olaf slåss med ord, men først og fremst slåss han for ord, for retten til å gi ordene luft, blekk, trykksverte. Vi vet alle at han lenge har måttet slåss også med sin egen kropp. At en del av kampen har handlet om noe så enkelt som å fylle lungene, for å gi ordene luft.
Kjære Kjell Olaf. Eller, med det kallnavn jeg har brukt på deg gjennom alle våre år i denne organisasjonen, og du skal vite at det er slett ikke bare spøkefullt ment: Kjære Høvding.
Vi trenger dine ord. Vi trenger deg. Og vi aner ikke hvordan vi kan si deg det ordentlig nok. Ta denne prisen som et lite forsøk på å få det sagt.

Anders Heger
leder, Norsk PEN

Norwegian PEN elects renowned writer and publisher as new president


Norwegian PEN elects renowned writer and publisher as new president

At its recent annual meeting, Norwegian PEN elected publisher, writer and columnist Anders Heger as the organisation´s new president. Heger succeeds Kjell Olaf Jensen, who chaired the organisation for ten years. Heger, a renowned publisher, author and columnist, has been an active member of PEN for years and shown great commitment to freedom of expression issues.

Writers Linn Ullmann and Terje Holtet Larsen and journalist Sissel Benneche Osvold were also elected as new members of the Norwegian PEN board.

20 May 2007