Turkey: Gezi Park case must be dismissed


Taksim Square – Gazi Park Protests, ?stanbul- Photo: Alan Hilditsch

24 June 2019 – PEN centres in fourteen countries today joined PEN International and Norwegian PEN in calling for the Turkish authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu and drop all charges against them and their 14 co-defendants including prominent figures in the Taksim resistance such as Mücella Yapıcı, Tayfun Kahraman and Can Atalay. All defendants face life imprisonment on the charge of ‘attempting to overthrow the government’ during the Gezi Park protests of 2013. Representatives of PEN International, Norwegian PEN and PEN Turkey will be monitoring the hearings at Silivri High Security Prison’s courthouse near Istanbul on 24 and 25 June, 2019.

‘We condemn the Turkish authorities’ efforts to prosecute 16 civil society figures for their alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Such spurious charges, for which the defendants face life in prison without the possibility of parole, should be dropped. The distinct lack of evidence in this case underlines its deeply political nature and serves as a stark reminder of the Turkish authorities’ readiness to silence dissenting voices,’ said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

A 657-page long indictment, released on 19 February 2019 and accepted by Istanbul’s 30th High Criminal Court on 4 March 2019, accuses the defendants of being responsible for crimes allegedly committed by protestors across Turkey during May and June 2013 and reframes the overwhelmingly peaceful protests as a conspiracy to overthrow the government. The indictment lists the plaintiffs as the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his entire cabinet at the time and 746 other complainants. Evidence consists mainly of intercepted telephone calls from the defendants, extensive details of foreign travel over a number of years and social media posts. The evidence further consists of surveillance camera photographs of publisher and civil society leader Osman Kavala meeting various people. With the exception of the phone calls, the majority of the evidence is dated after the protests took place.

Two of the defendants, Osman Kavala and rights-defender Yiğit Aksakoğlu, have been held in pre-trial detention in Silivri prison since 1 November 2017 and 17 November 2018 respectively. Three of the defendants – actor and director Memet Ali Alabora, actor Pınar Öğün and novelist and playwright Meltem Arıkan – are notably accused of having provoked the Gezi park protests with their play Mi Minör, staged in December, 2012. All defendants have been charged with ‘attempting to overthrow the government or partially or wholly preventing its functions’ under Article 312 of Turkey’s Criminal Code, the most severe sentence under Turkish law.

‘No evidence contained in the indictment successfully links any of the accused to a concerted effort to bring down the government, nor does it establish that any of the defendants were aware of plots to do so. Not only have the rights of liberty and security of Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu been violated under Turkey’s constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, but said violations appear to infringe the Convention’s Article 18, in that these detentions and the bringing of the case overall has a purely political motivation,’ said Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President of Norwegian PEN.

‘Osman Kavala has been arbitrarily deprived of his liberty for 20 months; Yiğit Aksakoğlu for over seven months. Prominent figures in the Taksim resistance as well as writers, actors and filmmakers are in the witness box. We call on the Turkish authorities to release Osman Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu immediately and unconditionally, to drop charges against all defendants in this case and to urgently end their crackdown on civil society,’ said Caroline Stockford, Turkey Adviser to Norwegian PEN.

Additional information
In May 2013 a peaceful protest against an urban development plan was staged in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces in the city. Local protests quickly spread and turned into the biggest civil protest in Turkey’s history, with over 3 million people taking to the streets across 81 cities. Nine people lost their lives and thousands were injured, as police repeatedly used aggressive tactics and excessive force against protestors. While thousands of people were arrested during the course of the protests, most cases that went to trial ended in acquittal. Four years later, however, the Turkish authorities began to arrest those they suspected of organising the protests in an apparent attempt to secure public support and solidify power.

Civil society leader, philanthropist, publisher, and human rights defender Osman Kavala, who is accused of financing the Gezi movement, was first detained on 18 October 2017 at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport upon returning from the city of Gaziantep, south-eastern Turkey. On 1 November 2017, a Court in Istanbul ruled that he be remanded in Silivri Prison, where he has been detained since. On 22 May 2019, Turkey’s Constitutional Court rejected an application to end his continued pre-trial detention. His case is pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

The defendants, in alphabetical order of surnames, are:
Yiğit Aksakoğlu (Civil society professional) – held in pretrial detention
Memet Ali Alabora (Director, actor) – abroad
Hakan Altınay (Chair of Open Society Foundation) – in Turkey, subject of travel ban
Meltem Arıkan (Novelist, playwright) – abroad
Can Atalay (Lawyer and human rights defender) – in Turkey
Can Dündar (Journalist, author) – abroad
İnanç Ekmekci – abroad
Yiğit Ekmekçi (Chair of Anadolu Kültür) – in Turkey, subject of travel ban
Hikmet Germiyanoğlu (NGO consultant) – in Turkey
Tayfun Kahraman (Urban planner) – in Turkey
Osman Kavala (Director of Open Society Foundation) – in pretrial detention
Çiğdem Mater (Film producer) – in Turkey, subject of travel ban
Pınar Öğün (Actor) – abroad
Mine Özerden (Civil society and arts project coordinator) – in Turkey, subject of travel ban
Mücella Yapıcı (Architect and engineer) – in Turkey
Gökçe Yılmaz – in Turkey
Report by English PEN – ‘The Gezi protests: the impact on freedom of expression in Turkey’

The Gezi Park Protests: the impact on freedom of expression in Turkey

Danish PEN
English PEN
French PEN
German PEN
Kurdish PEN
Norwegian PEN
PEN America
PEN Belgium/Flanders
PEN Canada
PEN International
PEN Netherlands
PEN Suisse Romand
PEN Turkey
Scottish PEN
Swedish PEN
Wales PEN Cymru

Media enquiries
PEN International        mike.halmshaw@pen-international.org
Norwegian PEN            cevirimiz@gmail.com

PEN Congress in Pune, India approves a resolution on climate change and environmental activism


Proposed by Norwegian PEN, seconded by PEN Eritrea and Estonian PEN

 Approved by the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 84th World Congress in Pune, India 25 – 29 September 2018

Climate change poses serious threats to future generations whose voices are not yet heard. They risk inheriting an uninhabitable planet. According to the UN, the last three years have been the hottest on record with increased incidents of extreme weather affecting millions of people, which strongly foreshadows the threatening process of continued global warming.[1] While the 2015 Paris Agreement[2] has been deemed a step forward, it does not do enough to keep global warming between 1,5 and 2 degrees centigrade, which is a prerequisite for preserving livelihoods in the most vulnerable countries.[3]

Species necessary for survival are increasingly threatened by extinction. Meanwhile, climate and environmental activists all over the world, from the Philippines to Brazil, from DR Congo to Peru and the U.S.A. face threats and persecution from state and non-state actors when they peacefully voice their concerns and protest policies and actions that risk a further deterioration of the climate and environment. [4] For instance:

  • In the U.S.A., journalists and film makers who documented the work of the activists who demanded the shut-down of oil sand pipelines in 2016 are facing criminal charges and risk hefty prison sentences, which threatens press and artistic freedom.[5]
  • In Vietnam, independent journalist and blogger Nguyen Van Hoa was sentenced to seven years in prison on 27 November, for his coverage of the 2016 Formosa chemical spill;[6] in April, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known under her pen name Mother Mushroom) was sentenced to 10 years in prison for writing about the same environmental disaster, among other things.[7]
  • In India, three members of one family were murdered last May as they tried to prevent the extraction of sand from a riverbank by their village of Jatpura.[8]
  • In Peru, six farmers were killed by a criminal gang who wanted to grab their land for palm oil production.

All over the world, an increasing number of those who raise their voices and act in defence of their habitat, are killed. According to the Guardian, 197 defenders of the environment were killed in 2017[9] and 66 have been killed so far in 2018 (at the time of writing, 30 July 2018). Most killings occur in remote forest areas, particularly in Latin-America. At the current rate, approximately four environmentalists might be killed every week this year.[10]

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International calls on the leaders of all states:

  • to take measures to protect the rights to freedom of expression and of association and other human rights that enable activists to raise their voices and engage with climate/environment issues, and to contribute to an atmosphere in which they can speak and peacefully express their dissent and protest freely, without facing threats, persecution and violence;
  • to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression and to access to information of journalists and writers engaged with documenting threats against global environment and climate, so that they can pursue their vital role in informing the public debate on these matters, unhampered by violence, threats, undue restrictions and censorship.

[1] Reuters, ‘Last three years hottest on record, severe weather hits 2018: U.N.’, 22 March 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climatechange-un/last-three-years-hottest-on-record-severe-weather-hits-2018-u-n-idUSKBN1GY01D.

[2] The Paris Agreement, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement.

[3] The Independent, ‘COP21: Paris deal far too weak to prevent devastating climate change, academics, warn’, 8 January 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/cop21-paris-deal-far-too-weak-to-prevent-devastating-climate-change-academics-warn-a6803096.html.

[4] Reuters, ‘Trump threat fires up U.S. climate activists, draws in more’, 11 November 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-environmentalists-idUSKBN1362EU.

[5] The Guardian, ‘Anti-pipeline activists and film-makers face prison, raising fears for free press’, 30 January 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/30/anti-pipeline-activists-and-film-makers-face-prison-raising-fears-for-free-press.

[6] Mongabay, ‘Citizen journalist jailed 7 years for reporting environmental disaster in Vietnam’, 1 December 2017, https://news.mongabay.com/2017/12/citizen-journalist-jailed-7-years-for-reporting-environmental-disaster-in-vietnam/.

[7] PEN International, ‘Take action for Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’, 30 October 2017, http://pen-international.org/news/take-action-for-nguyen-ngoc-nhu-quynh.

[8] The Guardian, ‘Villagers pay tragic price as Indian building boom drives demand for sand’, 30 December 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/30/india-sand-mining-conflict-deaths-building-boom-environmental-damage.

[9] The Guardian, ‘The defenders: Almost four environmental defenders a week killed in 2017’, 2 February 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/02/almost-four-environmental-defenders-a-week-killed-in-2017?CMP=share_btn_tw.

[10] The Guardian, ‘The defenders: 66 environmental defenders have been killed so far in 2018 while protecting their community’s land or natural resources’, 17 July 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2018/feb/27/the-defenders-recording-the-deaths-of-environmental-defenders-around-the-world.

Løslat Gui Minhai

Gui Minhai. Photo: CCTV screenshot.

Internasjonalt opprop mot fengslingen av Gui MInhai:
Kina må stanse de fremprovoserte tilståelsene og løslate foreleggeren Gui Minhai nå!

“Når jeg ser tilbake, ser jeg at jeg har blitt brukt av Sverige som brikke i et spill; mitt gode liv er ødelagt og jeg kan aldri mer stole på svenskene.”

Dette sa den varetektsfengslede forleggeren og svenske statsborgeren Gui Minhai da kinesiske myndigheter, for tredje gang, tvang ham til å møte pressen. Nok en gang viser Kina forakt for internasjonale konvensjoner og grunnleggende menneskerettigheter, blant dem retten til en rettferdig rettssak.

“Intervjuet” fulgte et velkjent mønster ved at kinesiske myndigheter forsøkte å avlede oppmerksomheten bort fra sin grovt manglende respekt for rettssikkerhet, gjennom offentlig å sette enkeltmennesker i et dårlig lys. Listen over kinesiske myndigheters brudd på menneskerettigheter og internasjonale konvensjoner er i Gui Minhais tilfelle opprørende og lang.

Gui Minhai ble den 17. oktober 2015 bortført fra sitt feriehus i Thailand av sivilkledd kinesisk politi. I lang tid etter bortføringen fantes det ingen tilgjengelige opplysninger om hvor han befant seg.

Han dukket opp igjen i januar 2016 da kinesiske myndigheter innrømmet å ha arrestert Gui Minhai. En statskontrollert tv-kanal viste en tilståelsesvideo der Gui Minhai sier at han frivillig hadde reist tilbake til Kina for å melde seg for politiet etter et trafikalt lovbrudd som skulle skrive seg helt tilbake til 2003. Han hevdet videre at han ikke ønsket noen form for bistand fra svenske myndigheter.

Selv om myndighetene innrømmet at Gui Minhai var i kinesisk varetekt, ble han verken anklaget, ført for retten eller dømt for noe som helst. Noen måneder senere ble det imidlertid igjen vist en fjernsynsoverført “tilståelse”. Denne gangen innrømmet Gui Minhai å ha distribuert ikke-lisensierte bøker til Kina, og nok en gang hevdet han at han ikke ønsket at svenske myndigheter skulle handle på hans vegne.

Siden løslatelsen fra fengsel i oktober 2017 har Gui Minhai vært under streng overvåkning, mens han har bodd i en leilighet i Ningbo. Tilgangen til internett og muligheten til å kommunisere med omverdenen har vært begrenset, til tross for gjentatte forsikringer fra kinesiske myndigheter om at han var en “fri mann og at svenske myndigheter kan ha så mye kontakt de måtte ønske med sin landsmann”. Sveriges utenriksminister, Margot Wallström, har uttalt at å gi konsulær bistand til en svensk statsborger med behov for medisinsk oppfølging er “helt i tråd med grunnleggende internasjonale konvensjoner, inkludert Wien-konvensjonen om diplomatisk samkvem”.

Etter alvorlige symptomer som kan tyde på at Gui Minhai lider av Amyotrofisk lateralsklerose (ALS), en sykdom som i økende omfang ødelegger nerver i hjerne og ryggmarg, la den svenske ambassaden til rette for at han skulle undersøkes av et legeteam ved ambassaden i Beijing.

På toget fra Shanghai til Beijing 20. januar, i følge med to svenske diplomater, entret ti sivilkledde politibetjenter toget og dro Gui Minhai vekk fra sitt svenske reisefølge. Gui Minhai forsvant igjen, og først 6. februar bekjentgjorde en talsperson for kinesiske myndigheter at Gui Minhai var varetektsfenglset.

PEN International, som har aksjonert for Gui Minhai siden han forsvant, fordømmer på det sterkeste de handlinger som kinesiske myndigheter har utsatt Gui Minhai for. Han har igjen blitt fengslet på grunnlag av alvorlige men svakt begrunnede anklager og uten noen bevis. Dette er brudd både på retten til ytringsfrihet og på grunnleggende prinsipper om rettssikkerhet.

Uten tilgang til advokat, og i et åpenbart påtvunget ”intervju” den 9. februar, bebreidet Gui Minhai svenske myndigheter for den situasjonen han nå befinner seg i. Nok en gang hevdet han at han ikke ønsker noen form for bistand, verken fra svenske myndigheter eller andre som har vært involvert i saken hans.

Den internasjonale forleggerforeningens pris, Prix Voltaire, skulle overrekkes til årets prisvinner, Gui Minhai, i New Dehli 12. februar. På grunn av kinesiske myndigheters ”maktpåliggende tiltak” overfor Minhai, forble prisvinnerens stol på podiet tom – på samme måte som da Liu Xiaobo ble tildelt Nobels Fredspris i 2010.

Prix Voltaire er en utmerkelse som skal hedre ”forsvarere av friheten til å publisere”. Gui Minhai har bidratt til fri spredning av tanker og ideer gjennom forlaget han driver, Mighty Current og Causeway Bay Bookstore i Hong Kong.

Overgrepene mot Gui Minhai står i sterk kontrast til Kinas påstander om å være et moderne og ansvarlig medlem av det internasjonale samfunnet.

Ytringsfriheten er selve kjernen i menneskerettighetene. Vi ber innstendig om at det internasjonale samfunnet bryter tausheten og legger press på kinesiske myndigheter med følgende krav: Vis respekt for ytringsfriheten og grunnleggende rettsprinsipper; løslat Gui Minhai umiddelbart og uten betingelser; gi Gui Minhai tilgang til nødvendig medisinsk behandling og kontakt med sin familie; gi ham tilgang til både konsulær og juridisk bistand.

PEN International
PEN America
English PEN
Hong Kong PEN
Svenska PEN
Norsk PEN
Dansk PEN

Artikkelen ble publisert i Dagbladet, Dagens Nyheter og Hong Kong Free Press

8. mars: PEN International med uttalelse om vold mot kvinner

Women Writers and Freedom of Expression
Freedom of expression as elaborated under the UDHR and ICCPR is a fundamental human right and the cornerstone of a democratic society. Women writers, through their promotion of the freedom of ideas, opinions, and information, play a crucial role in advancing plural, inclusive and equal societies. Their reporting on all human rights issues, including violence against women, is essential to the promotion of women in society and the protection of their rights. PEN International’s research, however, demonstrates that too often women writers are subject to violence from both State and non-State actors in an attempt to punish and deter them from carrying out this critical work.

Violence against women writers is a truly global concern. PEN International is currently campaigning on cases of brutality targeting women from Russia, where justice remains long overdue for the murders of journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova; to Pakistan, where the shooting of 11 year old blogger and educational activist Malala shocked the world; to Liberia, where Mae Azango, reporting on Female Genital Mutilation received threats that she would be “cut” to make her “shut up”; to Mexico, where investigative journalist Lydia Cacho was attacked, raped and forced into hiding for her work exposing child abuse and sex-trafficking.

Sadly, these examples represent only a fraction of the shocking number of instances of such violence. PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee is actively monitoring cases where women writers have been raped, beaten, harassed, had teeth broken during questioning, and their family members, even their unborn children, threatened because of their work. Although the context in which this abuse is perpetrated varies hugely, it is clear that in all of these situations women writers have been directly targeted for their role in advancing freedom of expression.

Violence and intimidation against women writers is intended not only to silence them speaking out but to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression across society. Where such violence is tolerated, all of society suffers.

What is required?
Existing measures to protect women writers are limited. PEN therefore calls upon member States to acknowledge the significant role of women writers in the advancement of freedom of expression. We ask that States protect women writers from violence perpetrated by State and non-State actors by recognising such violations and by offering effective security measures.
Fighting impunity is essential for the security of women writers. PEN calls for States to ensure that such violence is promptly and impartially investigated and that those responsible are punished in an appropriate manner. Women writers must be recognised as the experts in their own protection – it is essential that interagency efforts to eliminate and prevent violence specifically engage women in the design of protection programmes.

PEN is deeply interested in strengthening our existing networks in the support of women writers at risk. We are eager to engage with partner organisations and intergovernmental bodies concerning the design and implementation of protective measures.

Women writers face extraordinary risks due to their work for the promotion of freedom of expression. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, PEN calls upon all parties to join with us in celebrating their vital contribution and remarkable courage.

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.

Turkey’s president in dialogue with PEN International delegation

The delegation´s visit to Turkey took place from 12 – 18 november.  PEN International and centers from the USA, Sweden, England, Turkey and Norway participated. In the meeting with President Abdullah Gül in Ankara 13 November, the delegation asked that the country does something concrete to stop the alarming increase in the number of writers, journalists, translators and publishers who are detained or prosecuted in the country. PEN International President, John Ralston Saul, said at a press conference in Istanbul 15.11 – Prisoners Authors Day – that the «positive political and economic developments in Turkey was overshadowed by concern over the lack of freedom of expression in the country.

Below is a comprehensive report in English. You can also download an extensive press report at this link.

‘Quick and concrete action’
PEN International Calls for Release and Reform of Laws Restricting Turkey’s Writers, Publishers, Translators and Journalists

Istanbul, 15 November 2012 – A delegation of writers from PEN International today called on the government of Turkey to take “quick and concrete action” to reverse an alarming rise in the number of writers, journalists, translators and publishers who are in prison or on trial in the country. Speaking at a press conference today in Istanbul, PEN International president John Ralston Saul warned that positive political and economic developments are being overshadowed by concerns about the freedom to write in Turkey.

“We recognize that Turkey has seen important gains in democratization and civil and political rights in recent years, and we believe the momentum for reform is ongoing,” Saul said. “But for our many colleagues currently in prison or on trial — including members of PEN Turkey — processes and promises are no consolation. We are asking the government of Turkey to act now to ensure that no-one is being penalized for practising the right to peaceful freedom of expression, and to release all who may be held in violation of that right.”

Joining Saul were PEN members from Japan, Switzerland, Lebanon, the United States, Norway, Canada, and the United Kingdom, part of a 20-member delegation that he said “conveys the seriousness and urgency of PEN’s concern over the rising tide of trials of their colleagues in Turkey.”

Today’s press conference followed meetings in Ankara this week with President Abdullah Gül and Minister for European Union Affairs Egemen Bağış. The delegation pressed for reforms to Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law, to clearly distinguish between incitement to violence and the expression of non-violent, if controversial, ideas and an end to lengthy pre-trial detentions and legal proceedings that can drag on for years. They also presented the president and the minister with a list of key cases of writers, journalists, translators, and publishers who are in detention, on trial or facing prosecution in violation of their right to freedom of expression. PEN will be submitting further information to the government regarding these cases.

The PEN delegation also met with Öztürk Türkdoğan, president of the Human Rights Association, who underlined the organisation’s concerns with the deteriorating situation for freedom of expression in Turkey.

At today’s news conference, delegation member and PEN Turkey president Tarık Günersel spoke movingly about three cases emblematic of the serious situation in Turkey: the human rights lawyer Muharrem Erbey, in pre-trial detention for almost three years; translator Ayşe Berktay, in detention for one year and accused of being the “international advocate” of the banned organization KCK; and journalist Mustafa Balbay, in prison since 2009, facing charges ranging from membership in an unlawful organization to attempting to provoke an armed uprising. All of them, Günersel insisted, have in fact been detained for peaceful expression. These are just three of many cases on PEN’s list, Günersel emphasized, noting that in every case the rights violation extends to family and friends as well, all of whom endure uncertainty and financial hardship and the stigma of being branded terrorists or criminals.

After the news conference, the international delegation was to join members of PEN Turkey and writers from around the world for an afternoon of multilingual readings commemorating writers at risk. For more than 30 years, 15 November has been designated as the Day of the Imprisoned Writer in PEN centres around the World, a day on which PEN members honour their imprisoned, threatened and murdered colleagues.


“It is unfortunate that at this event the texts we will be reading include the writings of so many of our colleagues from this country,” Saul said at the press conference. “It is our sincere hope that at this time next year we will instead be able to celebrate their release and the end of these draining and damaging legal proceedings.”

You can access our full statement here.


PEN International calls for changes in legislation to protect freedom of expression in Turkey

November 2012

Turkey has an extraordinarily high number of writers and journalists in prison, and many other writers, journalists and publishers are currently on trial or facing trial. Most have been prosecuted or face prosecution because of their alleged affiliation with or support for organisations that advocate violence. However, PEN International believes that a significant number of the writers, publishers and journalists who are in prison or on trial in Turkey have been targeted for what they have written or published, and that Turkey’s broadly framed anti-terror laws are empowering overzealous state prosecutors to pursue cases where no material links to terrorism exist. The number of cases PEN International is monitoring in Turkey has increased alarmingly in the past year: more than 70 writers and journalists are currently in prison, and at least 60 other writers, publishers and journalists, are on trial, ensnared in legal processes that can last years.

This recent surge in prosecutions of writers, publishers and journalists in Turkey is reminiscent of the situation in Turkey in the 1990s, when PEN International protested the use by previous governments of overly-broad anti-terror laws to suppress writers and freedom of expression.

Since then, Turkey has gone through a period of significant political and economic development that has included increasing democratization, growing civilian authority over the military and, until recently, a steadily diminishing number of individual writers, publishers and journalists in prison or on trial for their work.


But the current increase in prosecutions of writers, publishers and journalists threatens to overshadow and undercut these achievements. PEN International is specifically concerned that:


• The majority of these writers, publishers and journalists have been or are being prosecuted under the Anti-Terror Law which defines offences too broadly, is applied inconsistently across jurisdictions and has been used against writers, publishers and journalists who have not supported, plotted, or carried out acts of terrorism or violence.

• Seventy percent of those jailed are of Kurdish origin or are writers, publishers, journalists and intellectuals who support Kurdish political and cultural rights. This includes at least 36 journalists who are in prison in connection with the case against supporters of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), under which more than 1,000 people are currently on trial.

• The Anti-Terror Law has also been used to prosecute journalists in the Ergenekon case, including some who had merely reported on the police and the judiciary.

PEN International recognizes that among the anti-terror cases there may be some that demand judicial scrutiny. However, a lack of clarity surrounding judicial proceedings, the absence of public evidence and the widely varying interpretations of the Anti-Terror Law create the conditions in which security laws may be used to penalize activity that is clearly protected by Turkey’s national laws and by international laws guaranteeing freedom of expression.


In addition to the Anti-Terror Law, freedom of expression is suppressed under other laws as well. These include legal prohibitions on obscenity, praising offenders or offences, and incitement to ethnic or religious hatred. While some of these laws predate this government, and convictions under these laws have decreased in recent years, regulations such as Article 301—which criminalizes “denigrating the Turkish Nation, the State of the Turkish Republic and Organs of the State”—remain on the books, creating the potential for continuing abuse. Freedom of expression is also threatened by recent legislation targeting digital media.

A series of legal reforms over the past decade has brought modest improvements in protections for freedom of expression.


Under the July 2012 Third Judicial Reform Act, for example, judges can now offer non-custodial sentences and suspend trials and prosecutions against writers, journalists and publishers accused for their writings and publications in cases that carry penalties of up to five years in prison.


The impact of these reforms remains limited, however, because journalists continue to receive prison sentences under the Anti-Terror Law, and few media crimes cases have been suspended.

At the same time, structural and procedural practices remain in place that contribute to the high numbers of writers, publishers and journalists in prison or facing trial.


PEN International is especially concerned that:

• The Turkish legal system imposes extremely long periods of pre-trial detention on suspects. PEN International is currently following cases of writers, publishers and journalists who have served up to four years in prison and still have not been convicted of any crimes. These conditions create an atmosphere of intimidation for writers and journalists, who risk lengthy spells in prison when they publish controversial but legitimate comment even if they are eventually cleared of any crime.

• Even in cases without pre-trial detention, writers, publishers and journalists in Turkey face lengthy trials that may last for years. Many cases end with acquittals or minor fines, suggesting that the original basis for prosecution was weak under Turkish law. Instead, those who bring these cases do so to harass and intimidate the authors (who face draining, debilitating defences that can drag on for months or years) and thereby to send warnings to others.


The large number of writers, publishers and journalists who are in prison or are on trial under broadly framed and inconsistently applied laws, often in obscure proceedings, affects all who wish to exercise their right to freedom of expression.


Many writers, publishers and journalists in Turkey have expressed concern to PEN International about a climate of intimidation and fear that is fostering widespread self-censorship. Many dread publishing controversial but completely legitimate opinions and ideas that are protected under national and international free expression guarantees. This climate is clearly at odds with, and a threat to, the emergence of stronger, more diverse and more accountable democratic institutions in Turkey.

PEN International therefore requests that the government of Turkey take the following actions:

• Undertake an immediate review of all cases of writers, publishers and journalists to ensure that none is being penalized for the legitimate practice of his or her right to peaceful freedom of expression and association.


• Release all those currently detained, imprisoned or facing prosecution in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

• Reform the Anti-Terror Law to protect freedom of expression, especially Articles 6 and 7, which are often misused to prosecute writers, publishers and journalists. The Act remains the most serious threat to freedom of expression in Turkey.


• Revise the Penal Code Articles that have been used to launch court cases over legitimate political comment or speech.

• Ensure that changes to both the Anti-Terror Law and the Penal Code make “a clear distinction between incitement to violence and the expression of non-violent ideas,” as recently suggested by the European Commission.

• Revise the Law on the Internet, which limits freedom of expression and restricts citizens’ right to access to information, again as recently suggested by the European Commission.

• Improve on the reforms of the Third Judicial Reform Package by eliminating unnecessary pre-trial detention and debilitating lengthy trials; introduce stringent means of vetting cases before trial so that weak indictments are not used to imprison, harass or intimidate writers, publishers and journalists.

The PEN International congress worried about lack of freedom of expression in a number of countries, 19 resolutions published

During PEN Internationals congress in Belgrade from 12th through 18th September, a number of resolutions about the lack of free expression in a number of countries were passed.  The source of most of these text were the Writers in Prison Committee.  Local WiPC write texts, secure support from other centers and convene at the congress in order to agree on the final texts to be passed on to the assembly.

Most of these texts are written in a well known UN-language.  PEN centers often discuss how we – as a literary organizations – can express ourselves more literary and less bureaucratic in these text which are distributed to authorities, embassies and medias all over the world.  The Mexican resolution, telling a long story of increasingly more violent harassements, is an example.

All the text are available on this link.

Eugene Schoulgin elected vice-president of PEN International


More than 250 writers from several dozen countries, gathered in Tokyo for the 76th annual Congress of PEN International, expressed profound outrage at the sentencing yesterday of 35-year-old Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan to 19.5 years in prison on charges that include ‘propagating against the regime’, ‘insulting religion’, spreading ‘anti-revolutionary’ propaganda and obscenity.

‘This outrageous sentence of a writer for the expression and transmission of his ideas is grossly unjust,’ said John Ralston Saul, President of PEN International. ‘This is the new totalitarianism. Instead of banning books, they are attempting to control the Internet; what became a mechanism for freedom in its early days is now under attack around the world.’

News of the sentence came as delegates from 86 PEN Centres around the world concluded their weeklong meeting, during which they considered both the relentless, escalating threats to freedom of expression in many forms and the essential role that the literatures and languages of the world play in sustaining our common humanity.

At the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo, PEN International announced the delivery of a strongly worded statement to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Japanese capital. The statement expresses ‘alarm’, ‘concern’ and ‘shock’ over China’s status as one of the world’s most prolific jailers of writers and journalists, and decries the ‘arbitrary’ arrests they face; the use of ‘administrative detention, including the infamous «Re-education Through Labour» system to jail dissident writers for up to 3 years without due process’; escalating censorship; and the increasing persecution of Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) members Shi Tao and, most recently, Liu Xiaobo.

Liu’s case in particular was much discussed during the Congress. Currently serving a sentence of 11 years, he has come to symbolise China’s systemic repression of its people’s deep yearning for democratic freedoms to match the country’s economic liberalism. He is one of more than 40 writers serving sentences in China (including the Tibet, Xinjiang-Uighur and Inner Mongolia autonomous regions).

Mexico was also a topic of much concern. A state of undeclared war has festered there since 2006, in which more than 20,000 people – many of them journalists – have died as a result of the unchecked powers of drug cartels. ‘In Mexico, words such as «kidnapping», «torture» and «summary execution» have become commonplace, heard daily,’ said Saul, ‘and all these crimes go unpunished.’

In Iran, more than 40 writers, journalists and bloggers in addition to Derakhshan have been detained or face charges. ‘The extreme sentence handed to Derakhshan, in part for insults to Islam, is symptomatic of another great concern to PEN International,’ said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee. ‘The right to criticise religion is a right equal to the right to practise one’s religion. When governments attempt to limit the rights of citizens, they are not seeking to protect faith or belief. They are seeking increased power over the citizenry.’

PEN International holds that legal restrictions on defamation would not only do little to foster mutual understanding and respect, but can also be used to stifle creative freedom as well as suppress minority views and religions.

Congress delegates also elected a new International Secretary, Takeaki Hori of Japan. Hori has sat on PEN International’s Board since 2004, and is the first person from Asia to take up this critical post within in the NGO.

‘This is a historic moment,’ said Saul. ‘and a statement of how international PEN International is. The vast majority of Centres are outside the West, which is a complete reversal from when the organisation was founded, and in its early years … We’re probably the oldest real NGO, but we’re constantly re-inventing ourselves.’

Hori concurred. ‘We have reached a stage where every Centre in every region now has a continuous connection to the mission of PEN International, not just in terms of new technology, but philosophically. PEN International is in the hands of our entire family. This is a symbolic transition to a truly globalised organisation.’

Appropriately, the Congress was held in Tokyo on the 75th anniversary of the Japan PEN Centre’s founding. Hori, a member of Japan PEN for over 25 years, claims a remarkably diverse background. Known as a writer on environmental issues, he is also a professor of social anthropology, journalist, founder of an offshore fishery and former vice president of the US-Japan Foundation, among many other roles.

In other developments within PEN International, members Philo Ikonya of Kenya, Lee Gil-won of South Korea and Tarik Günersel of Turkey were newly elected to the Board, and Haroon Siddiqui of Canada was re-elected for another three-year term.

PEN International celebrates literature and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, its global community of writers now spans more than 100 countries. PEN programmes, campaigns, events and publications connect writers and readers wherever they are in the world.

29th September 2011

PEN International and the Council of Europe issue joint statement on free expression

World Press Freedom Day

Council of Europe and PEN International joint Statement

Council of Europe and PEN International call for stronger protection of freedom of expression

Strasbourg/London, 02.05.2011

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, and the President of PEN International, John Ralston Saul, today made the following joint statement to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.  They added that they are making this joint statement to express their concern over the growing threats to freedom of expression.

«Journalists and writers across the world are imprisoned and silenced every year for saying or writing things that did not please those in power. Now we are witnessing the imprisonment of bloggers, citizen journalists, web-activists – even simple Internet users, for legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression.

It has never been easier to exercise our rights to expression and information, but it has also never been easier to interfere with them.

When freedom of expression cannot be exercised fully by media professionals or by writers, the freedom of each of us, of every citizen, is endangered. Our rights to receive information and to freely form and to hold views and opinions are limited. Our right to informed participation is eroded. Ultimately, democracy is compromised.

Freedom of speech is one of the essential pillars of a genuine democracy, it requires extraordinary protection. This is enshrined in Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

We urge all governments, civil society actors, technical communities and the private sector to work together to protect freedom of expression in our common interest» Mr. Jagland and Mr. Saul said. «The Council of Europe and PEN International, drawing on our respective strengths, are currently looking at ways that we can cooperate to this end.»