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PEN Blog: November, the month of Solidarity and Gratitude to Writers and Journalists

Monday 19 November 2018 - 5:13pm


November, the month of Solidarity and Gratitude to Writers and Journalists persecuted, imprisoned, forcibly disappeared or murdered and their relatives*

A reality, immensely sad and revolting: the violation of human rights in the world has worsened, as evidenced, in particular, by the degrading situation of freedom of expression and opinion in many UN member states.

Last September, in Pune, India, the 84th Congress of PEN International celebrated the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, a defender of Peace, Truth and Non-Violence. Truth, Freedom and Diversity are the three thematic axes of this great event. It should be remembered that, on 5 September 2017, our Indian sister and colleague Gauri Lankesh was murdered at her home in Bangalore. Gauri was a prominent journalist, publisher and human rights defender. Daughter of the poet, journalist and playwright Palya Lankesh, Gauri Lankesh was well known for defending women and fighting against the caste system and racism. The PEN International Congress paid tribute to Gauri Lankesh. Tribute and Thoughts also to 6 other colleagues including Daphne Caruana Galizia (Malta – murdered on 12 October 2017), Dawit Isaak (Eritrea - imprisoned since 2001), Idris Said Aba Arre (Eritrea - imprisoned since 2001), Amanuel Asrat (Eritrea - imprisoned since 2001), Oleg Sentsov (Ukraine - imprisoned in Russia since 2015) and Shahidul Alam (Bangladesh - arrested on 8 August 2018).

A reality, immensely sad and revolting: several hundred women and men writers and journalists have been threatened, assaulted, tortured, imprisoned, deported, taken hostage, disappeared, killed or forced into exile because of their writings, their drawings, their words or their songs. November is the month of Solidarity and Gratitude, filled with emotions and memories. In Mexico, every day in November is at risk of becoming the Day of the Dead. We do not forget the Second Day of November, as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’. Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlone were murdered on 2nd November 2013. Since their unjust and atrocious death, blood does not stop flowing. In the past 12 years, according to UNESCO, nearly 1010 journalists have been killed. On average, this constitutes one death every four days. In nine out of ten cases, the murderers go unpunished. Since January 2018, 106 journalists and media workers have been killed in 36 countries (99 for the whole of 2017), an increase of 18% compared to 2017, deplores Press Emblem Campaign. In first place, Afghanistan (17 killed), followed by Mexico (15 killed) and Yemen (8 killed).

On 15 November, it will be the 37th World Imprisoned Writer Day. Our writers and journalists are bearers of dreams and adventures, witnesses to human realities. In the face of dictatorial and corrupt powers or armed crime groups, stand up speech, words, pen and pencil. In many cases, women writers and reporters are at higher risk of being targeted. Let's read again this quote from Anna Politkovskaya, murdered on 7 October 2006 in Moscow: "I am only a woman, a human being among millions ... I am pleased to testify to the present moment and to write all I see'''. According to PEN International statistics, over the last 12 months there have been more than 200 attacks on freedom of expression. Suisse Romand PEN Centre has a strong desire to pay tribute to these women and men, sisters, brothers and colleagues who are victims of intolerance, dictatorship and violence. To their loved ones too. Tribute, thoughts and support. Together, we demand justice, dignity and freedom for all writers and journalists imprisoned, tortured, forcibly disappeared and murdered. We say with one voice: NO to censorship, NO to murders of writers and journalists. YES to the love of writing and the obstinacy of testifying. We are, of course, all aware that nice speeches, messages of condolence and sympathy are no longer enough. At the very heart of the European Union, in Malta, Daphne Caruana Galizia died in the explosion of her car on 12 October 2017. At Stiavnik, in Slovakia, Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová were shot dead on 21 February 2018. At Rousse, in Bulgaria, Viktoria Marinova was strangled to death on 6 October 2018. But we cannot allow ourselves to be reduced to silence in such a climate of intimidation, threat and hatred.

Thus, on the eve of the World Imprisoned Writer Day, 15 November, we send this urgent appeal to the international media: Join your voices to ours, those of thousands of writers, poets, journalists, bloggers, translators, editors and lawyers of PEN International for supporting victims of repression of freedom of expression and opinion in today's world. Among many other women and men mentioned in the non-exhaustive list published by the PEN Committee of Defence of Persecuted and Imprisoned Writers, we consider seven major cases as examples:

* Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist and writer, has been imprisoned in Eritrea since 2001 without any contact with the outside world. UNESCO / Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2017.

* Miroslava Breach Velducea, a renowned Mexican journalist by the end of her 36-year of career, was murdered on 23 March 2017. She was shot repeatedly in front of her home in Chihuahua, Mexico.

* Oleg Sentsov, Ukrainian writer and filmmaker, sentenced on 25 August 2015 to 20 years in prison by a Russian military court, on the basis of false accusations of terrorist acts. Trial tainted by allegations of torture. Deported to Siberia, in a penal colony thousands of kilometers from his relatives in Crimea. He spent 145 days on a hunger strike from 14 May to 6 October 2018 in calling for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia but in vain.

* Shahidul Alam, award-winning Bangladeshi writer and photographer-journalist, arrested on 8 August 2018 for "making provocative comments" and "giving false information to the media", thus violating article 57 of the Information Communications technology Act. However, this article 57 restricts freedom of expression. Tortured in detention, Shahidul Alam faces a sentence of 7 to 14 years in prison.

* Wael Abbas, Egyptian writer and blogger, known for his work denouncing police brutality and other abuses committed by the authorities of his country. Arrested on 24 May 2018, he was allegedly charged with "participation in a terrorist group, dissemination of false information and abuse of social networks". PEN International believes that Wael Abbas has been persecuted for exercising his right to freedom of expression and information.

* Trân Thi Nga, Vietnamese blogger, human rights defender, member of the Association of Vietnamese Women which supports prisoners of conscience. She defends victims of arbitrary expropriation of land and denounces the alleged culprits and accomplices of an unprecedent vast marine pollution in April 2016. Arrested on 21 January 2017 and sentenced to 9 years in prison for "propagating propaganda against the socialist state of Hanoi ''. Deported in 2018 to a camp more than 1000 km from the city where her two young children live. Beaten and threatened by common-law co-detainees, deprived of visiting rights from her family for protesting the poor conditions of detention.

* Trân Huynh Duy Thuc, Vietnamese poet, blogger and writer. Co-author of a banned book, he has also published poems and articles on his various blogs. Arrested in May 2009, he was sentenced in January 2010 to 16 years in prison for "propagating propaganda against the socialist state of Hanoi" and for "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration". In May 2016, deported to a camp about 1400 km from the city where his family lives. He refused to go into exile, which is demanded by the authorities as a condition for his early release. Hunger strike from 13 August to 16 September 2018 to protest the poor conditions of detention because of his refusal of a conditional release with exile abroad.

As a reminder, at the PEN International Congress in Pune, India, delegates from over 80 countries unanimously expressed their deep concern over the global deterioration of freedom of expression and opinion. Attention is also focused on the stifling of digital freedom in China, Colombia, Cameroon, Turkey, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Viet Nam. Or criminal laws punishing public defamation in many countries in Africa. We must not forget the crimes of apostasy in Saudi Arabia. The PEN International Delegates' Assembly has finally adopted a dozen resolutions involving several "incriminated" states. Among them are Azerbaijan, Egypt, Eritrea, Guatemala, China PRC, Hong Kong, the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghurs, Venezuela, Hungary, the United States of America, Malta, Mexico, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Australia, Cuba, Iran, Israel, Cambodia, Venezuela, Viet Nam RSV and Turkey.

Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viet, vice-president of Suisse Romand Centre of PEN International.

For the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC).

Geneva, November 2018.