THE DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER 2020
AND THE SUISSE ROMAND PEN CENTRE
Release all human rights defenders immediately and unconditionally
No Selective Indignation for Defending Freedom of Expression.
This Sunday, 15 November is the Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2020, celebrated by PEN International members throughout the world. Despite the pandemic and adversity, during the last twelve months, the Committee for the Defence of Persecuted and Imprisoned Writers of the Suisse Romand PEN Centre continues to support PEN International in its campaigns for defending freedom of expression and helping writers and journalists at risk or in danger.
There are no frontiers for freedom of expression, but today it is endangered. Here, writing is a very simple act. But in several countries, authors risk to be accused of spying or considered as public enemies for having the courage of expressing their thoughts, denouncing corruption, protesting against injustice, opposing to the environmental destruction, or condemning the violations of human and citizen rights.
To defend freedom of expression and promote literature without borders, there is no selective indignation facing human rights degradation conditions. This is why since January 2020, our Committee has treated more than 85 cases or subjects of concern in more than 40 States in the world (Turkey, Iran, Egypt, China - Hong Kong - Tibet –Xinjiang of the Uighurs, Belarus, Mexico, Viet Nam, India, Russia, Cuba, Azerbaijan, Nicaragua, Uganda, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Brazil, France, United Kingdom, Myanmar, Eritrea, Togo, Slovakia, Nigeria, Honduras, Greece, Canada, Australia, African States, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Lebanon, Serbia, Chile, Burundi, Bahrain, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Yemen, Middle East, North Africa etc.).
The pandemic doesn’t prevent intolerance, discrimination, hate and repression from spreading. Non-exhaustive is the list of cases of writers, journalists, translators, publishers, artists, songwriters, bloggers and defenders of human rights and environmental matters facing the threat of harassment, arrest, torture and even death. Everywhere, pens and pencils continue to be confiscated or broken. Drawings, songs, poems are targeted by the arbitrary political power, fanaticism and intolerance, the secret police surveillance and major crime organizations.
We share also PEN International concern to assure the writers’ safety against criminal defamation and insult laws, as well as mass surveillance and its crippling effect on freedom of expression and freedom of the press in some countries. Apart from Turkey, the People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam are well-known for long prison sentences and excessive preventive detention. The last two communist States couldn’t hide their prisons and forced labor camps crowded with human rights
prisoners. Attacks and murders of writers and journalists remain often unpunished, notably in Mexico and Latin America. Among prisoners, dead people are known in Turkey, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan and Communist Viet Nam.
In celebrating the Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2020, the Committee for the Defence of Persecuted and Imprisoned Writers of the Suisse Romand PEN Centre pays tribute to writers, journalists and human rights defenders dead in prison, murdered or missing on the road of exile. Together, we condemn these crimes and denounce the impunity of their assassins. Together, we name, as an example, some known people among numerous victims:
- Ebru Timtik, Turkish human rights lawyer and dissident (42 years old) has passed away lonely in prison on 27 August 2020 after 238 days of hunger strike to ask for a fair trial. According to her relatives, she weighed 30 kg when died. She was sentenced last year to more than 13 years in prison for "her links with a terrorist organization".
- Irina Slavina, Russian journalist (47 years old), chief editor of the independent information site Koza.Press which reviews and analyzes non-censured news, sat herself on fire in front of the police headquarters in Nizhny Novgorod (400 km south-east from Moscow) on 2 October 2020. Few hours before taking action, the journalist wrote on Facebook: « I ask you to lay the blame for my death with the Russian Federation». The day before, the police had raided Irina Slavina's apartment at 6 o’clock. Her notes, computers and phones, along with those of her husband and daughter - were seized.
- Hanane Al-Barassi, Libyan lawyer, defender of women’s rights and dissident (46 years old), was murdered on Tuesday, 10 November 2020 right in the heart of Benghazi, Libya. The day before, she declared on social media that she was going to post a video on a corruption case linked to powers in the country.
- Farah-Martine Lhérisson Lamothe, a star of the Haitian contemporary poetry (49 years old) has died in her country in the night of 15 June 2020. Poet, professor of literature and head teacher, Farah-Martine Lhérisson Lamothe was murdered in her residence in Haiti. Two of her close relatives were also killed.
- María Elena Ferral Martínez, Venezuelan journalist (52 years old), was assassinated on Monday, 30 March 2020 at Papantla, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Before her death, María Elena Ferral Martínez covered social movements in the native areas of Totonacapan.
- Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos, Mexican journalist (44 years old), founder and director of the local daily Medios Obson El Tiempo was shot dead on Saturday, 16 May 2020 in Ciudad Obregon, in the state of Sonora, Mexico.
- Victor Fernando "Apontito" Alvarez Chávez Mexican journalist (53 years old) missing on 2 April 2020. On 8 April, his head was found in the area of Acapulco,
Renaissance City, Mexico. Alvarez was the chief editor of Punto x Punto, a information site in Guerrero. Author of many articles on violence of cartels in Acapulco, he had received death threats from members of organized crime before his disappearance.
- Shady Habash, Egyptian film director and dissident (24 years old), passed away in the Tora prison, Cairo, Egypt on 2 May 2020. Imprisoned nearly 800 days without any judgment, he would died in icy lonliness and absolute silence. His crime was the making of a video clip criticizing the state president. The song "Balaha" was interpreted by the rock artist Rami Issam.
- Abdel Wahab Yousif, more known under the name Latinos, Sudanese poet (30 years old), passed away on 27 August 2020 when an pneumatic boat full of immigrants sunk in sea shortly after leaving Libya and heading for Europe.
- Azimjon Askarov, Kyrgyz journalist and human rights defender (69 years old), passed away in prison in Kyrgyzstan on 25 July 2020. Arrested in June 2010 and condemned to life imprisonment following a parody of trials. Allegations of tortures in detention according to the Human Rights Committee in 2016. The Kyrgyz authorities refused to release Azimjon Askarov for medical and humanitarian reasons, although his heart and respiratory problems and risks with the Covid-19 disease.
- Dao Quang Thuc, Vietnamese teacher and human rights defender (60 years old), arrested in 2017, condemned in 2018 for 13 years imprisonment, passed away following « cerebral hemorrhage and pulmonary infection » on 10 December 2019 in one of forced labor camps of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (Communist).
- Doan Dinh Nam, Religious Vietnamese Buddhist and human rights defender (68 years old), arrested in 2012 and condemned in 2013 for 16 years in prison, passed away on 5 October 2019 due to « renal failure » in one of forced labor camps of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (Communist).
- Samuel Paty, a French history and geography teacher (47 years old), was murdered on 16 October 2020 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, near Paris, France. Samuel Paty was killed for defending freedom of expression and opinion.
Together, we ask the concerned state authorities for immediate and unconditional release of all writers, editors, translators, professionals of independent media and human rights defenders currently detained in prisons, in preventive or probationary detention for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion. Among people mentioned above, we express our solidarity and support to the following six major cases:
- Pham Doan Trang (Socialist Republic of Viet Nam), writer and freelance editor (42 years old), hunted down and pursued like a criminal, she refused to go into exile and
was obliged to live underground. Arrested in the night of 6 October 2020, imprisoned without having the right to access to legal defence, Pham Doan Trang will be indicted on « propaganda against the socialist state». If convicted, she will face a maximum prison of 20 years. Pham Doan Trang was co-founder and editor of the dissident magazine « Luat Khoa Tap Chi » (Law Study) and the independent information website « The Vietnamese ». She was also known as the author and co-editor of the Liberal Publishing House banned by the Communist authorities.
- Chimengul Awut (Xinjiang/People’s Republic of China), Uyghur poet, translator and prize-winning editor (47 years old). Important poetry works. In July 2018, she was sent to a « re-education» camp in Xinjiang. Without any charge or sentence, neither known release date nor contact with the outside world. Her state of health and well-being are unknown, particularly in this pandemic time.
- Sedigheh Vasmaghi (Iran), poet, theologian, writer and women's rights defender (58 years old). Her books are forbidden. In August 2020, she was condemned to one year imprisonment for signing a petition criticizing police brutalities. This sentence was added to another five years suspended sentence in 2017. She remained free on bail until October 2020, when her sentence was confirmed. She will have to go to jail.
- Paola Ugaz (Peru), investigation journalist, editor and writer. She is victim of a judicial harassment campaign, threat and prosecution for defamation for her investigation since 2010 on corruption cases and bodily, psychological and sexual abuse committed inside a religious Peruvian organization. On 12 November 2020, a judge will decide whether to initiate a lawsuit. If she is guilty, Paola Ugaz would be condemned to a three years imprisonment and heavy financial fines.
- Osman Kavala (Turkey), editor, philanthropist and defender of cultural and civil rights (63 years old). He works for peace and respect for human rights and democratic values in Turkey. Incarcerated on 18 October 2017, he would face a very heavy prison term and even life prison sentence.
- Kakwenza Rukirabashaija (Uganda), novelist and journalist. Because of his novels and publications dealing with theme of corruption and police brutalities, he was victim of arrests, tortures and multiple arbitrary detentions. Arrested on 18 September 2020 and released on parole three days later, under police security which requires that he has to show up weekly to the Special Investigation Unit for answering to accusations, and this, for an indefinite period.
Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt,
President of the Suisse Romand PEN Centre.
For the Committee for the Defence of Persecuted and Imprisoned Writers
of the Suisse Romand PEN Centre.
Geneva November 2020