The Australian Centres of PEN International condemn charges against Maria Ressa and reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr

24 June 2020

The Australian Centres of PEN International condemn the charges recently brought in the Philippines against Maria Ressa and reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr of the Rappler news website. This is another instance of a ruthless leader, President Duterte, acting with impunity and silencing those who challenge his power.

On 15 June, Maria Ressa, co-founder, CEO, and executive editor of the Rappler news website,and one of the Philippines most prominent journalists, was found guilty of ‘cyber-libel’ along with with journalist, Reynaldo Santos Jr.

The charges were brought by businessman, Wilfredo Keng, in response to an article written by Santos Jr eight years ago which alleged criminal ties between Keng and a senior judge.

Judge Estacio-Montesa sentenced Ressa and Santos to a minimum of 6 months and 1 day to a maximum of 6 years in jail.

Dubious legal manipulations took place to bring this case to court, resulting in Ressa’s claim that ‘the law has been weaponised’.

PEN Melbourne, PEN Sydney, and PEN Perth stand wholeheartedly with Ressa and Santos, and call on the Philippines government to immediately dismiss all charges against them.

Support Maria Ressa HERE.

Background

The Philippines now ranks 136th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.

Maria Ressa has been a powerful and courageous voice under Duterte’s radically unjust regime, and the judgement brought against her is a call out to all who fight for freedom of expression around the world.

Immediately following the hearing, Ressa said:

‘Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything . . . Are we going to lose freedom of the press? Will it be death by a thousand cuts, or are we going to hold the line so that we protect the rights that are enshrined in our constitution?’ The mission of Rappler, Ressa added, would remain unchanged. ‘We’re at the precipice. If we fall over we’re no longer a democracy’. Source.

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, said that the higher courts in the Philippines have a responsibility to reverse the verdict against Ms. Ressa, and that ‘the law used to convict Ms. Ressa, and the journalist who authored the article which led to their prosecution, is plainly inconsistent with the Philippines’ obligations under international law’. Mr Kaye warned that ‘any criminalisation of journalism, as took place here, serves only to defeat the ability of journalists to inform the public, to ensure open and rigorous public debate’. Source.

Philippines: Maria Ressa sentence a threat to media freedom

The sentence served today, 15 June, against journalist and writer Maria Ressa, is a severe blow to freedom of expression in the Philippines, said PEN International. The ruling “undermines the already dwindling democratic space in which free media and civil society operate,” said The Philippine PEN.

Maria Ressa was sentenced by the Manila Regional Court to a prison term of between six months to six years on charges of ‘cybercrime’ for an article published on the on-line news platform Rappler in 2012. The article alleged corruption between a businessman and a judge. Ressa was convicted alongside her colleague a former researcher and writer, Reynaldo Santos Jr, under the Cybercrimes Prevention Act that was enacted in September 2012, several months after the article was published, and applied retroactively. Both Ressa and Santos are free on bail awaiting appeal.

Maria Ressa is one of the Philippines’ most well-known free speech advocates, having set up Rappler with three other women journalists in 2012. It soon became a source of exposés of corruption and human rights abuses, including the execution of thousands of Filipinos in the war against drugs. Ressa faces other libel cases, as well as criminal investigations into allegedly illegal foreign ownership of her companies and investigations into tax returns. Altogether these charges, believed to be politically motivated, could lead to around 100 years in prison. Maria Ressa was named a TIME person of the year in 2018 and spoke at the Global Conference for Media Freedom organised by the Canadian and British Governments in the UK in 2019. She is the author of two books on the rise of terrorism in Southeast Asia.

“Maria Ressa is a brave journalist who has reported fearlessly from across Southeast Asia during tumultuous times,” writes Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

“To convict her on grounds of criminal libel years after the incident during a pandemic is nothing but another cowardly way the authorities are seeking to intimidate media freedom in the Philippines. That Maria and her former colleague Reynaldo can appeal is a matter of comfort. That she is being tried at all shows the distance the Philippines has travelled from the promise of democracy that was born with the end of the Martial Law. We were privileged when she spoke to the Assembly of Delegates at the PEN Congress in Manila in 2019, when she spoke eloquently about the need to remain vigilant in defending our freedoms. We are dismayed by the verdict against one of the truly courageous journalists of our time and urge the Philippines to change its law which threatens the media and take immediate steps to stop the persecution of Maria and her colleague Reynaldo.”

The Philippine PEN Centre released the following statement:

STATEMENT OF PHILIPPINE CHAPTER OF THE INTERNATIONAL PEN ON THE CONVICTION OF MARIA RESSA AND REYNALDO SANTOS JR. FOR LIBEL

The Philippine Center of PEN International expresses its gravest concern over the recent conviction of journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel for a 2012 article. Questions of constitutionality aside, this action further undermines the already dwindling democratic space in which free media and civil society operate.

This verdict cannot be seen as separate from the pattern of escalating threats and intimidation against Ms. Ressa and other media entities since 2016, for reportage that the present administration has found objectionable.

In solidarity with PEN International, the Philippine PEN stands by the principles of free expression and the unhampered flow of critical information.

We urge all citizens to uphold their right to free speech and equal protection under the law, and for all governments to protect these rights at all times.


For more information, please contact Sara Whyatt, Asia Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: sara.whyatt@pen-international.org

Turkey: PEN and global organisations deplore block of Özgürüz and Can Dündar harassment

PEN International and 38 civil society organisations deplore the decision by a Turkish court to ban access to Germany-based online radio station Özgürüz (‘We Are Free’), which is headed by Can Dündar. We call on the Turkish authorities to reverse the decision, to stop the harassment of Dündar and to reform the country’s laws and judicial practice so that internet freedom can be guaranteed.

On 16 June, the Ankara 4th Criminal Court of the Peace banned access to the station and its website ozguruz20.org at the request of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (Radyo ve Televizyon Üst Kurulu, RTÜK), which apparently argued that the station was streaming radio illegally and reporting and streaming content against Turkey. RTÜK in an unofficial statement calls Dündar a ‘fugitive FETÖ suspect’ and refers to his trial over disclosing state documents and information and obtaining secret information for the purpose of espionage, although the latter charge was dismissed.

Dündar, a former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, said in response: ‘The Government, especially in the recent period, has taken control of information sources like the Turkish Statistical Institute and a huge portion of the news media; however it could not oversee media organisations like Özgürüz Radyo streaming freely from exile.’ He also announced that the radio will continue to broadcast on ozguruz21.org.

Internet freedom in Turkey is under sustained attack from the government and the routine unlawful blocking of websites, where this is not strictly necessary and proportionate to a legitimate objective, encroaches on the already limited space for independent media and dissenting voices.

Dündar has been the victim of judicial harassment by the Turkish authorities since 2015, with several criminal procedures on-going. He was detained between 26 November 2015 and 26 February 2016, and has been living in exile in Germany since December 2016. Özgürüz has been repeatedly blocked by the Turkish authorities in the past, including in January 2017, before it had started publishing news.

Signed:

PEN International

Albanian PEN
ARTICLE 19
Articolo 21
Association of European Journalists
English PEN
Estonian PEN
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Freedom House
German PEN
Hungarian PEN
Independent Chinese PEN Centre
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Irish PEN / Freedom to Write Campaign
Japan PEN Club
Latvia PEN
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
PEN Canada
PEN Centre of Bosnia and Herzegovina
PEN Eritrea
PEN Lebanon
PEN Melbourne
PEN Norway
PEN Québec
PEN Suisse Romand
PEN Turkey
PEN Uganda
PEN Venezuela
PEN Vietnam
Romanian PEN
San Miguel PEN
Scottish PEN
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Swedish PEN
Swiss-German PEN
Trieste PEN
Wales PEN Cymru

PEN work in Turkey:

https://pen-international.org/news/turkey-pen-and-global-organisations-deplore-block-of-ozguruz-and-can-dundar-harassment

Azerbaijan: immediately release reporter and human rights defender Elchin Mammad

Elchin Mammad | Credit: Mammad’s Facebook page

PEN International is highly concerned about the arrest and continued detention of reporter, lawyer and human rights defender Elchin Mammad. On 30 March 2020, a few days after Mammad published a critical report on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, police arrested him at his home, claiming to have found stolen jewellery in his office. The next day, Sumgait City Court remanded Mammad in custody for three months as a criminal suspect. PEN International believes his arrest and detention to be politically motivated.

‘Mammad has been the subject of harassment and intimidation by the authorities for his work since 2015. PEN International fears that he is again being persecuted for his critical reporting and human rights activities and calls for his immediate and unconditional release,’ said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

Background

Elchin Mammad is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Yukselish Namine newspaper, which supports the activities of civil society organisations in Azerbaijan and publishes articles on human rights, freedom of speech and of the press, as well as information about citizens’ access to information, among other topics. Currently, it is published online only. Prior to his work for Yukselish Namine, Mammad worked as editor and correspondent for other newspapers.

In addition to his journalistic activities, Mammad is a human rights lawyer and the president of the Social Union of Legal Education of Sumgait Youth (SULESY), an organisation that provides free legal assistance to low income families and legal support for local NGOs, and undertakes legal capacity-building activities for civil society actors.

Mammad has faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities since 2015. He has repeatedly been under judicial or law enforcement investigation involving several alleged crimes. In this context, Mammad has been interrogated and has had his house and office searched on multiple occasions.

The persecution by the Azerbaijani authorities of Mammad fits a pattern in which critical voices are targeted with politically motivated arrests on spurious charges, extended pre-trial detention and custodial sentences. Prison conditions in Azerbaijan are very poor, a situation that is likely exacerbated by the measures taken in the context of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Media in the country are under tight government control, and the majority of independent outlets have been forced to close or go into exile. Those still operating face police raids, financial pressures and prosecution of journalists and editors on trumped up charges.

The crackdown on dissent appears to have intensified recently, with the Coronavirus outbreak being used as an excuse to threaten opposition voices. On 19 March 2020, in his yearly address to the nation to mark the Novruz Bayrami holiday, President Aliyev promised “new rules” for the duration of the pandemic, threatening to clear the country of “traitors” and to “isolate the fifth column”.

For further details contact Laurens Hueting at PEN International, e-mail: laurens.hueting@pen-international.org

Iraqi interpreters face threat of death; Australian embassy in Baghdad does not accept visa applications

February 2020
The Hon. Scott Morrison MP
Prime Minister
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
PO Box 6500
Canberra ACT 2600
Australia

Re: A Humanitarian Promise

Dear Prime Minister,

Before we focus on the reason for this letter, the undersigned international translator and interpreter associations, together with our human rights partners, would like to express our profound sorrow at the loss of life and the devastation wrought by the bushfires in your country.

With that in mind, we write to alert you to another tragedy, namely, the fate of a small group of approximately 60 Iraqi interpreters who never know if they will see another day due to their service with the Australian Defence Force. The situation in Iraq is dangerous and volatile, with continuing state and paramilitary violence, and linguists face the ongoing threat of death. In fact, armed actors have identified them as high-priority targets who must be eliminated.

Your country has established a policy of granting protective visas to locally recruited employees, among them interpreters. On closer inspection, however, there is an insurmountable challenge regarding its implementation: the Australian embassy in Baghdad does not accept visa applications and refers applicants to the embassies in Amman, Jordan, or Beirut, Lebanon. As you can imagine, crossing war-torn and militia-held territories exposes them to physical risk as well as burdens them with prohibitive costs.

Thus, while Australia’s humanitarian commitment is laudable in spirit, the current travel requirement renders it unfeasible in practice. We urge your administration to set up a temporary visa processing unit in the Baghdad embassy so that visa applications can be submitted locally, without undue hardship, or find a viable alternate solution.

We thank you for your consideration and hope it will lead to a facilitated resettlement process for your country’s dedicated linguist allies.

Sincerely,

Maya Hess, President, Red T

Linda Fitchett, Chair, Conflict Zone Group, International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC)

Kevin Quirk, President, International Federation of Translators (FIT)

Aurora Humarán, President, International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI)

Angela Sasso, President, Critical Link International (CLI)

Christopher Stone, President, World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI)

Maurizio Viezzi, President, Conférence Internationale Permanente d’Instituts Universitaires de Traducteurs et Interprètes (CIUTI)

Loredana Polezzi, President, and the Executive Council, International Association of Translation and Intercultural Studies (IATIS)

Lucio Bagnulo, Head of Translation, Language Resource Centre, International Secretariat, Amnesty International

Betsy Fisher, Director of Strategy, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)

Simona Škrabec, Chair, Translation & Linguistic Rights Committee, PEN International

Erika Gonzalez, President, Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators Inc. (AUSIT)

Julie Judd, Chair, Australian Sign Language Interpreters’ Association (ASLIA)

Samantha Klintworth, National Director, Amnesty International Australia

Jason Scanes, CEO, Forsaken Fighters Australia Inc.

Ivana Bućko, President, European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters (EFSLI)

Daniela Perillo, President, European Legal Interpreters and Translators Association (EULITA)

Pascal Rillof, President, European Network for Public Service Interpreting and Translation (ENPSIT)

Cc:

The Hon. Peter Dutton MP, Minister for Home Affairs

The Hon. Linda Reynolds MP, Minister for Defence

The Hon. Alan Tudge MP, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure and

a/g Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs

Jess Flatters: We Need a Free Press

It couldn’t happen here? It just did.

 It took Annika Smethurst months to hear the sound of her doorbell without it triggering a rush of anxiety. She has become a household name since the AFP raided her home in June 2019, rifling through her personal belongings in relation to articles she wrote more than a year earlier. In those articles based on leaked documents, she wrote about an internal proposal to expand the powers of some intelligence agencies from spying outside Australia to spying on the general Australian public.

What is the case against Smethurst?

Smethurst has not yet been charged – a fact which has weighed on her heavily as she waits months, perhaps years, to learn of her fate. The law that the police relied upon in their raid of Smethurst’s home had, until then, never been used to obtain a warrant against a journalist. The law is section 79(3) of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) which prohibits unauthorised communication of official secrets. The government claims her article threatened the country’s national security.

What protections are in place?

We are the only democratic country to not have freedom of speech enshrined in its constitution. Until now, we have had to trust that our elected politicians will refrain from encroaching on the ‘implied freedom of political communication’ – the flimsy protection that is ‘implied’ in our constitution. The freedom is restricted: a burden upon the freedom is valid if it reasonably appropriate and adapted to serve a legitimate end. In November Smethurst’s lawyers argued that section 79(3) was used in an exercise of constitutional overreach; for the illegitimate purpose of protecting governments from embarrassment and government secrecy as an end in itself.

While criminal charges against government officials who leak state secrets are not new, the severe threats that face journalists for fulfilling their role in a democracy are. Sections 70 and 79 of the Crimes Act 1914 provide that government whistleblowers and journalists may be subject to up to two years’ imprisonment for disclosure and/or publication of certain government information. There are no public interest defences available for journalists.

Your Right to Know

Many Australians would have been surprised to see the likes of The Guardian, Newscorp and Nine band together as part of the Right to Know Campaign following the raids of Smethurst, the ABC, and the threat of raids against Ben Fordham. These diverse media organisations are among every Australian daily newspaper that published redacted front pages on the morning of Monday 21 October 2019. They are attempting to push back against the flood of national security laws that have been introduced since 9/11, which include harsh treatment of whistleblowers and journalists, and invasive data collection and retention laws where warrants can be sidestepped.

Smethurst’s case continues. While awaiting her fate, she has moved out of her home. Though the AFP agents who traipsed through her house are long gone, their invasive presence is felt in the ongoing uncertainty of her future. Australians should also be feeling the weight of what is increasingly becoming a surveillance state, where ‘national security’ is exploited as an untouchable catch-all for anything that may portray the government in a negative light.

Journalists should not be scared for their future liberty by the sound of a doorbell. But Australians should be scared for their future in a democracy that silences those who speak truth to power.

 

Jessica Flatters

 

A very beautiful postcard from Nedim Turfent, Turkish imprisoned writer

Recently we received this beautiful postcard from Nedim Turfent in response to cards sent to him by PEN Melbourne members.

October 2019 – Responding to the news that reporter, news editor and poet Nedim Türfent had his prison sentence upheld by Turkey’s Court of Cassation yesterday, Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, said:

‘We deplore the decision of Turkey’s Court of Cassation to uphold Nedim Türfent’s lengthy and unfair prison sentence, despite blatant violations of his right to a fair trial. It is another dark day in Nedim’s ongoing miscarriage of justice. The Turkish authorities must release him immediately and unconditionally, and urgently overturn his conviction.’

Nedim Türfent is serving an eight-year-and-nine- month prison sentence on trumped-up terrorism charges following an unfair trial, during which scores of witnesses said they had been tortured into testifying against him. He spent almost two years in solitary confinement in harrowing detention conditions. Determined to keep writing, he started composing poetry while detained.

https://pen-international.org/news/turkey-editor-nedim-turfent-prison-sentence-upheld

THE US PROSECUTION OF JULIAN ASSANGE IS AN ATTACK ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

RESOLUTION ON THE ABUSE OF THE US ESPIONAGE AND THE US PROSECUTION OF JULIAN ASSANGE AS AN ATTACK ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Proposed by Norwegian PEN, seconded by Swedish PEN and Danish PEN

PEN International expresses concern over the US government’s indictment against WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange and the threat his prosecution poses to press freedom.

In May 2019, Julian Assange was indicted by the US Justice Department on 17 counts of violating the US Espionage Act for his role in obtaining and publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010. UN experts, free expression groups and scores of human rights lawyers have made it clear that this prosecution raises profound concerns about freedom of the press under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and sends a dangerous signal to journalists and publishers worldwide. US prosecutors had already charged Julian Assange with one hacking-related count, which also includes a list of actions that fall under journalistic activities.

Through WikiLeaks, Julian Assange published classified material provided by whistleblower Chelsea Manning, then a military analyst in the US army, which revealed evidence of human rights violations and possiblewar crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. US prosecutors criticized Julian Assange for putting the identity of sources at risk by publishing unredacted materials. However, the indictment does not hinge on that fact but effectively opens the door to criminalizing activities that are vital to all investigative journalists who write about national security matters.

The US Espionage act of 1917 was designed to punish spies and traitors working with foreign governments during wartime. Using it to sentence Chelsea Manning to 35 years in prison was in itself a threat to critical publishing. The fact that Julian Assange now faces decades behind bars will cause a chilling effect on critical journalism seeking to expose the truth about crimes committed by governments. The fact that a government decides that a specific document is secret or confidential does not make it so, and on many occasions the public’s right to know overrides the state’s desire to keep matters secret, such as evidence of human rights violations or corruption.

In June 2019, the United Kingdom’s home secretary signed a US extradition order for Julian Assange. His extradition hearing has been set for February 2020.

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International calls on the United States to:

  • Drop charges against WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange, who faces a lengthy prison sentence in the United States for obtaining and publishing newsworthy information. Espionage laws should not be used against journalists and publishers for disclosing information of public interest.

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International further calls on the United Kingdom to:

  • Reject extraditing Julian Assange to the United States.

Turkey: Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay acquitted Friday 14 February 2020

Responding to the news that award-winning writer Aslı Erdoğan and renowned linguist Necmiye Alpay were acquitted of terror-related charges by an Istanbul court earlier today, Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said:

‘We, the PEN community, are delighted with the wonderful news today from Turkey, which is all too rare: we celebrate the long-awaited acquittal of Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay. They have endured three-and-a-half years of judicial harassment and that they were to be prosecuted for what they had written is a matter of disgrace. Such blatantly politically motivated prosecutions have become a staple of Turkey’s criminal justice system.

As we welcome this great victory for press freedom, we refuse to lose sight of those still languishing behind bars in Turkey on trumped-up charges – and we will continue to campaign for the freedom of Ahmet Altan, Osman Kavala, Nedim Türfent and Selahattin Demirtaş.

We renew our call on the Turkish authorities to end these prosecutions of writers and journalists and release them from detention, because they are being subjected to such treatment only because of the content of their writing or alleged affiliations. We call upon Turkish authorities to immediately release all those held in prison for peacefully expressing their views.’

Read more on the PEN International website:

https://pen-international.org/news/turkey-erdogan-alpay-acquitted