China: Concerns for well-being of poet and artist Liu Xia

PEN International is deeply concerned for the health and well-being of poet, artist and founding member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, Liu Xia, following reports that attempts to contact her in the wake of the death of her husband, writer and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, have been prevented by the Chinese authorities, despite their assertions that she is ‘free’.  Liu Xia has been subjected to unofficial house arrest without charge ever since Liu Xiaobo was named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010. PEN International calls on the Chinese authorities to lift all remaining restrictions placed upon Liu Xia immediately and unconditionally.

To take action and send appeals, please find details on PEN International's website.


Hungary: End hateful rhetoric and attacks against rights groups

The Hungarian authorities must stop encouraging hateful views, PEN International said today, as the authorities continue to crackdown on independent civil society groups and critical voices.

The latest in a string of incidents saw Hungarian-born philanthropist and writer George Soros become the target of a government-run anti-immigration campaign. Posters appearing in public spaces across the country last month – on billboards, the metro and even the floors of Budapest’s trams – depicted the Jewish emigre laughing, alongside the text ‘let’s not let Soros have the last laugh’, in reference to claims that he wants to force Hungary to allow in migrants. The past few months have seen an escalation of the country’s anti-migrant stance, with the authorities openly fuelling anti-migrant rhetoric and smearing rights groups critical of their stance.

Billboards were reminiscent of anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda, which mocked Jewish people and emphasized their supposed attempts to destroy Germany. Several posters of George Soros were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti that read ‘stinking Jew’ and bore the stars of David. Although the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Federations urged the Hungarian authorities to halt the campaign, saying it encouraged anti-Semitism, the government denied it was the case and let the campaign run its course until 15 July.

‘Prime Minister Viktor Orbán claims that the government has zero-tolerance towards anti-Semitism yet this latest campaign against George Soros has clearly fuelled hateful views’, said Jennifer Clement, PEN International President. ‘We urge the Hungarian authorities to investigate, prosecute and sentence all racist crimes and to end their vile and shameful attacks against dissenting voices.’

This is not the first time that George Soros finds himself the target of the Hungarian authorities. The National Act on Higher Education, adopted in April 2017, was essentially designed to force the prestigious Central European University (CEU) – which George Soros funded – into inoperability. PEN International and other human rights groups denounced the move as an attack on the CEU’s right to academic freedom and independence.

The Hungarian authorities’ long-standing attacks on civil society culminated in June 2017 with the adoption of a new law on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which compels NGOs that receive more than 7.2 million Hungarian Forints (approximately 24,000 euros) to re-register as a ‘foreign-supported organisation’. By labelling NGOs as ‘foreign-funded’, the new law will further stigmatise and delegitimise their work and ultimately have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

PEN International urges the Hungarian authorities to end their campaign against independent civil society groups and to uphold their international obligations.

The organisation further calls on the Hungarian authorities to take all possible measures to combat xenophobia, anti-refugee sentiment and racism.


Liu Xiaobo: An exceptional life, always remembered

PEN International was gravely concerned for the health of dissident writer, Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) member and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, following news of his diagnosis of late-stage liver cancer. He was released on medical parole in June 2017 and was receiving medical treatment at Shenyang Hospital, Liaoning province. Liu Xiaobo had been serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” related to his part as the leading author behind “Charter ‘08”, a manifesto calling for protection of universal human rights and democratic reform in China. PEN International believes that Liu Xiaobo had been held for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of opinion, expression and association. PEN called on the Chinese authorities to grant Liu Xiaobo adequate medical care allowing his direct involvement in the decision-making process, and to allow him to seek medical assistance wherever he should choose.

More about Xiaobo on PEN International's website.

Attention is now drawn to the freedom of his widow, Liu Xia.

If you'd like to pay tribute to Liu Xiaobo, you can write a message in his memory,

From Xiaobo's writings:

Dawn

Between the gray wall
And a string of sounds of chopping in kitchen
Dawn is tied and cut
And melted by a sort of limpness of soul

I do not know how the difference
Between light and darkness displays through my pupils
Sitting in the rust I cannot determine
Whether it is the light of prison shackles
Or the god of nature beyond the walls
Betrayal of the day makes the proud sun
Shocked very much

This dawn is broad in vain
While you in a great distance
Collect the nights of love


Turkey: Director of Amnesty International and other activists must be released

The Turkish authorities should immediately release Idil Eser, Director of Amnesty International Turkey, as well as seven human rights defenders and two trainers who were detained after taking part in a workshop, PEN International said today. 

They were taken away by police on 5 July 2017 as they were taking part in a digital security and information management workshop on the island of Büyükada near Istanbul. According to Amnesty International, they were initially held incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and family. Latest media reports say they are currently being held in five different police stations. 

We are appalled by the outrageous detention of Idil Eser and her colleagues and are calling for their immediate and unconditional release’said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International‘We express our heartfelt solidarity with those working to advance human rights in Turkey and with those whose voice has been all but silenced by the authorities. This relentless crackdown must end once and for all’

This latest string of arrests once again sheds light on the sustained onslaught on civil society and freedom of expression in Turkey. Following the coup attempt on 15 July 2016, the Turkish authorities have pursued an unprecedented crackdown against perceived critics and opponents. Over 160 media outlets and publishing houses closed down since July 2016 and around 165 journalists and media workers have been jailed pending trial. Over 145,000 civil servants have been summarily dismissed, with over 47,000 including army, police and teachers jailed pending trial on charges of involvement in the coup plot and of association with the alleged “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation” (FETÖ).

PEN International urges the Turkish authorities to immediately release all those held in prison for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression. As world leaders gather at the G20 summit in Hamburg, the organisation further calls on the international community to urge Turkey to uphold freedom of expression, in line with their international human rights obligations.


Bahrain: Writer and human rights defender remains in custody despite worsening health condition

Bahraini authorities must stop all criminal proceedings against Nabeel Rajab, ensure the full respect of his rights as a prisoner, and order his immediate and unconditional release, PEN International said today. Rajab, a prominent human rights defender and writer, remains in detention since his arrest on 13 June 2016, in spite of his deteriorating health due to poor prison conditions and mistreatment. PEN International believes Rajab is being detained for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and for his peaceful human rights activities.

‘It is outrageous that Nebeel Rajab, a peaceful advocate for human rights, is detained again. Bahraini authorities must stop this relentless campaign of harassment and intimidation against him, respect his basic human rights and allow him to return to his family immediately’ - said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee

Rajab’s poor health prevented him from attending his previous court hearings on 14 June and on 3 July 2017. He is currently in hospital waiting for the next hearing, which is due to take place on the 10th July 2017. A verdict is expected at this hearing and Rajab is at risk of receiving up to 3 years’ imprisonment for "spreading false news" in relation to media interviews he gave. Rajab is currently allowed limited contact with his family, with no possibility of communication with his lawyers.

The presiding judge over Rajab’s case has refused all requests submitted by his lawyers to release him, despite the length of his detention period in solitary confinement and clear evidence about the deteriorating condition of his health. According to PEN’s information,he is at risk of being sent back to prison in spite of his bad health and his need for hospitalisation, in order to force his presence at the next hearing. The charges against Rajab are a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression, protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain has ratified.

To see more PEN’s previous action on Nabeel Rajab please click here.


Saudi Arabia: Seven-year prison sentence upheld against writer

Well known Saudi Arabian writer Nadhir al-Majid had his sentence upheld by the Riyadh Court of Appeal on 4 June 2017. The judgment is final and cannot be subject to further appeal. 

On 18 January 2017, al-Majid was found guilty of “writing articles supporting protests”, “failing to obey the ruler”, “contact with foreignnews agencies” and “participating in demonstrations”. He was sentenced to seven years in prison as well as a seven-year travel ban and a fine of 100,000 riyals (approx. US$ 26,000). Al-Majid was immediately arrested at the hall of the Court of Appeal of the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh and taken to the al-Ha'ir high-security prison where he was held in solitary confinement for over a month. Al-Majid was then transferred to the Al-Damam prison on 24 February, where he spent the first two days in solitary confinement. 

‘By persisting in silencing critical voices, the Saudi authorities demonstrate their total disregard for freedom of expression in the country. Al Majid, should be released immediately and his sentence should be quashed as it is based solely on his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, said Salil Tripathi, PEN International.

 Al-Majid is a prominent Saudi writer and school teacher who has published many books and articles in several Arabic newspapers and electronic websites, including Modern Discussion and Droub.

Al-Majid was formerly arrested on 13 April 2011 and detained until 27 June 2012, without charges or trial. He said he was tortured and ill-treated and placed in solitary confinement for five months. His detention was related to his writings and publications, in particular his article I protest, I am a human being in which he supports the right to protest and freedom of assembly. This article, along with his other articles, were published in 2015 in a book entitled I protest. Al-Majid is also the author of Prokrustes shades: the text, the intellectual, the confession, published in 2015, in which he promotes liberal and uncensored writings.


Norwegian PEN In support of Snowden

Norwegian PEN gave the Ossietzky Prize to Edward Snowden in Moscow. On April 21st, Edward Snowden received the Ossietzky Prize for 2016. President William Nygaard and Secretary General Hege Newth Nouri of Norsk PEN gave him the award in Moscow.

'I'm grateful for the support from Norwegian PEN,' said Edward Snowden when he received the award, a lithography by Norwegian artist Nico Wideberg.

On April 21, it had been a year since Edward Snowden filed a lawsuit against the Norwegian state together with Norwegian PEN. The lawsuit was filed in order to allow Snowden to travel to Norway without fear of extradition to the US, where he faces decades of imprisonment under the Espionage Act. Norwegian courts dismissed the case, the final dismissal fell in the Supreme Court in November 2016.

As a plan B, Norwegian PEN would go to Moscow and hand over the prize to Snowden personally. Last week, William Nygaard and Hege Newth Nouri traveled to Russia and met Edward Snowden. Accompanying Norwegian PEN were Snowden’s Norwegian lawyers from Schjødt Advokater and journalists from the Norwegian Broadcasting Company, who have followed the case the last year. The meeting took place in a hotel in Moscow.

Edward Snowden arrived a little late. He explained that the bus was so crowded he had to wait for the next. He lives an almost normal life in Moscow, but at the same time he has isolated himself in the Russian society. He has chosen this way of life because he once again hopes to return to his native country and be brought to justice in the United States in a fair and impartial trial. Snowden will be tried under the so-called Espionage Act of 1917, a law which is unacceptable according to international human rights standards. This First World War law will condemn him to life imprisonment without a jury and defense, a sentencing he will serve in a high-risk prison under extremely severe conditions.

Edward Snowden explained that he spends most of his life online, digital communication is both his profession and way of life. He teaches via skype at several universities and holds speeches all over the world. Edward Snowden is also board of directors in the organisation Freedom of the Press Foundation, an NGO that works to protect and support freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

We talked about the drone warfare, international law, the protection of whistleblowers, Trump and Putin, love and everyday life in Russia, future prospects, but most of all we talked about the issues that Snowden has fought for for almost four years in involuntary exile: how to secure and strengthen individual privacy, whistleblowers, journalists and others' ability to communicate securely.

Snowden has a leave to stay in Russia until 2020, but his future is as uncertain as it was in 2013.

Norwegian PEN, together with his Norwegian lawyers, will assist Edward Snowden if he wishes to apply for asylum in countries other than Russia. 


News from the 82nd PEN International Congress

Dear PEN members,

The 82nd PEN International Congress in Ourense, Spain took place from the 26th September to the 2nd October 2016. I would like to congratulate Galicia PEN for a truly inspiring congress and thank them for the warm hospitality they showed to PEN delegates. I hope that all those centres that attended had a positive experience. 

Election Results

  1. Kätlin Kaldmaa (Estonia PEN) was elected as the PEN International Secretary for a three-year term.
  2. Thida (Myanmar PEN) was elected and Anders Heger (Norway PEN) and Mohamed Sheriff (Sierra Leone PEN) were re-elected to the PEN International Board, each for a three-year term. Gilwon Lee (Korea PEN) came to the end of his time on the Board of PEN International.
  3. Marjan Strojan (Slovenia PEN) was elected Chair of the PEN International Writers for Peace Committee for a three-year term.
  4. Takeaki Hori (Japan PEN) and Franca Tiberto were elected as Vice Presidents of PEN International.

Centre News

  1. Togo PEN was elected as a member Centre of PEN International.
  2. The following Centres were declared dormant: African Writers Abroad Centre, Afar Speaking Centre, Iraq Centre, Roma Centre, Somali Speaking Centre, Tunisia Centre and Writers in Exile London branch.

Thematic and Regional Resolutions

The Resolutions adopted by the assembly of Delegates of PEN International are now available to view online via the following links:

Spanish: http://www.pen-international.org/resoluciones-adoptadas-en-el-congreso-de-ourense-espana-en-2016/?lang=es

English: http://www.pen-international.org/resolutions-adopted-at-82nd-pen-international-congress-in-ourense-spain-in-2016/

French: http://www.pen-international.org/resolutions-adoptees-a-82e-congres-du-pen-international-a-ourense-lespagne-en-2016/?lang=fr

PEN Congress 2017

The 2017 PEN Congress will held inLviv, Ukraine, hosted by Ukraine PEN. The exact date will be available in the coming months.

With best wishes,

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Kätlin Kaldmaa, International Secretary


PEN report on India: A culture of stifling dissent and criminalising free expression

For more information click here