Turkey/Syria: Media and journalists under attack

PEN International strongly condemns attacks against journalists and the ongoing media crackdown following Turkey’s offensive in Northern Syria, and calls on all parties to protect journalists from harm and to uphold the rights to freedom of expression and opinion.

On 9 October 2019, the Turkish armed forces started bombing parts of Northern Syria, controlled by Kurdish-led forces previously allied with the US. The Turkish authorities said they aimed at establishing a 32-kilometre deep ‘safe zone’ and transferring millions of Syrian refugees from Turkey. Kurdish-led forces have since reached a deal with Syrian government forces, brokered by Russia, in a bid to stave off the assault.

According to reports, the Turkish offensive has already led to the displacement of 100,000 civilians and scores of casualties, including summary killings. On 11 October, journalists in South-eastern Turkey said they had been targeted by a sniper attack. On 13 October, two journalists were reportedly killed and several others wounded in a Turkish air raid on a convoy of civilians near Ras al-Ain, Northern Syria.

‘We are appalled by reports of attacks against journalists following the Turkish offensive in Northern Syria. Journalists have the right to carry out their work freely and without fear, particularly in situation of conflicts. We call on all parties to immediately and effectively investigate these crimes and bring all perpetrators to justice through fair trials. We further urge them to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,’ said Emmanuel Pierrat, Chair of PEN International’s Writers for Peace Committee.

In Turkey, the authorities reportedly restricted access to social media platforms and messaging services for 48 hours in at least three cities close to the Turkish-Syrian border as it launched its military assault. On 10 October, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul published a statement banning critical news reports and comments of the offensive and threatening those who dared voice dissent with prison sentences.

Hakan Demir, online editor of BirGün daily, and Fatih Gökhan Diler, news editor of the news website Diken, were both briefly detained on 10 October; Demir for a tweet on the offensive and Diler for a report quoting a spokesperson of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Both were subsequently placed under travel ban.

‘Previous Turkish military operations in Syria have seen hundreds of people being prosecuted for social media posts advocating peace. Turkey remains the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The Turkish authorities must put an end to the media crackdown once and for all and ensure that journalists can operate freely’.

‘Syrian people have already suffered eight long years of bloody violence. As PEN members, we abide by our Charter and pledge ourselves to do our utmost to dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality in one world. We remain deeply concerned about the threat the years-long conflict poses to the safety and security of all people in Syria and to the peace, security, and aspirations of people throughout the region. We call once again on all sides to bring about an end to the conflict in Syria, and to ensure that the rule of law and respect for freedom of expression are fully respected without delay’, added Emmanuel Pierrat.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org

Spain: Case against Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart should be dismissed

As the trial of writers and Catalan civil society leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart comes to an end, PEN International once again calls on the Spanish authorities to release them immediately and to drop the charges of rebellion and sedition against them.

‘Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart face the possibility of 17 years behind bars for their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. PEN reiterates our demand that charges of charges of rebellion and sedition be dropped and their long detention be brought to an end,’ said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

‘Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart have already spent 20 months in prison. The Spanish judicial authorities have repeatedly refused to release them, with the Constitutional Court rejecting an appeal from Jordi Cuixart as recently as last month. We urge the authorities to release them immediately and to respect their right to peacefully express their opinion,’ added Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Background information

Writers and Catalan civil society leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart were taken into custody on 16 October 2017 on charges of sedition and were subsequently charged with rebellion in March 2018.

They stand accused of calling on protestors to gather in front of governmental buildings in Barcelona on 20 and 21 September 2017 in order to obstruct searches for electoral materials, and for ‘encouraging, supporting and leading’ sedition through participation in Catalonia’s independence referendum on 1 October 2017.

Their trial opened on 12 February and is due to end on 12 June 2019. In total, 12 Catalan leaders involved in the referendum are being tried for rebellion, misuse of public funds or disobeying the state. Spain’s Supreme Court is expected to issue its verdict in the coming weeks.

On 27 May 2019, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention condemned the detention of Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart. It called on the Spanish authorities to release them immediately and to accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law. The authorities rejected the findings of the report.

For more information about PEN International’s position on the case against Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart please see Spain: Excessive charges against Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart must be dropped, available in English as well as Spanish and Catalan.

For further details contact PEN International at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338  e-mailinfo@pen-international.org

Challenge What You Know: What’s really happening to Julian Assange


6:00pm – 8:30pm
University of Technology Sydney, 1 Quay St, Haymarket NSW 2007

Quentin Dempster interviews Jennifer Robinson, counsel to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

About this Event

What’s really happening to Julian Assange? What has Australia done to protect his welfare? And why aren’t we hearing more about the most intriguing and complex threats to liberal democracy of our time?

Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster Quentin Dempster will interview Jennifer Robinson, counsel to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Quentin will ask the hard-hitting questions to get to the heart of the tough issues around WikiLeaks and Assange, free speech and press freedom – and Assange’s almost decade long legal struggle on Day of the Imprisoned Writer.

Be there 6pm for a 6:30pm start. Free parking after 6pm at Broadway Shopping Centre and $13 night parking available opposite the venue after 6pm.

This event is hosted by PEN Sydney with support from Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund. All proceeds go to PEN Sydney to continue to defend freedom of expression: campaigning on behalf of writers who have been silenced by persecution or imprisonment.

This event is supported by MEAA, and UTS Schools of Journalism and Law.

Find out more at www.pen.org.au

Jennifer Robinson

Jen is an Australian barrister at Doughty Street Chambers in London. She has a broad practice in human rights, media law, public law and international law, representing states, individuals, media organisations, journalists and activists in cases before international, regional and domestic courts. She has a particular focus on free speech and civil liberties. Jen is the longest-serving member of Assange’s legal team.

Over the past nine years, she has been involved in all aspects of the various legal struggles faced by Assange and WikiLeaks, including advising on and negotiating the publication of Cablegate, acting for Assange in the Swedish extradition proceedings, acting for WikiLeaks in the proceedings against Chelsea Manning, advising on the financial blockade, engagement with UN human rights mechanisms and in relation to Ecuador’s request to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Advisory Opinion proceedings on the right to asylum.

Her other recent cases include acting for the BBC World Service in UN engagement over the persecution of BBC journalists by Iran, acting for a Romanian journalist working for the Overseas Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) being sued by an Azerbaijan MP, acting for Vanuatu in the Chagos Islands case before the International Court of Justice, successfully challenging a sweeping anti-protest injunction obtained by a major multinational corporation and having the UK government’s fracking policy declared unlawful on the grounds the government failed to consider scientific developments in climate change. She has advised a wide range of media organisations, including the New York Times, Bloomberg, WikiLeaks and the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists.

She is passionate about using the law as a tool for social justice and to build power in movements for positive change. To that end, Jen created a global human rights program – the Bertha Justice Initiative – which has invested millions in strategic litigation and education for the next generation of movement lawyers. She has also long represented the West Papuan movement for self-determination and its leader in exile, Benny Wenda.

She is a founding board member of the Grata Fund, Australia’s first independent, crowd-sourced public interest litigation fund and sits on the boards of the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and the Bonavero Institute for Human Rights at Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes scholar.

Quentin Dempster

Quentin Dempster is a Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster with decades of experience. He is a veteran of the ABC newsroom and has worked with a number of print titles including the Sydney Morning Herald. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 1992 for services to journalism and is the former Chairman of the Walkley Foundation.

Image credit: Wikileaks/Twitter




Writing in Exile conversation with Roza Germian, hosted by Sami Shah

Join us at our Writing in Exile conversation with Roza Germian, hosted by Sami Shah.
This event if free but you must book your tickets at The Wheeler Centre link below
Book your tickets

Roza Germian

‘As a Kurd, I was stateless until I became an Australian, and Australia is the only official home I have, because Kurdistan does not exist on a map.’

Journalist Roza Germian lived through war for most of her childhood. In 1991, when Germian was 10, she was one of more than one million Kurds who fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq following the Iraqi retaliation to the Kurdish uprising. With her family, she later found temporary refuge in Turkey, and then moved permanently to Brisbane at age 15, when her family gained humanitarian visas.

As a teenager, Germian learned English and then went on to gain two university degrees. She now works as the executive producer on SBS Radio’s Kurdish programme, where her earliest experiences of terror, persecution and prejudice continue to inform her journalistic work.

At SBS, Germian has continued to highlight stories that concern the Kurdish community here and abroad, from the ISIS conflict to Kurds held in Australia’s immigration detention system. Hosted by Sami Shah, the remarkable Germian will share her story discuss her life and work.

This event will be Auslan interpreted.

United Kingdom: Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States

The British authorities must not extradite WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange to the United States, where he is at risk of serious human rights violations, including detention conditions that could amount to torture or other ill-treatment, PEN International and Swedish PEN said today. The organisations are further concerned by the broader implications his prosecution would have on global press freedom.

Julian Assange was arrested on 11 April 2019 at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for breaching his bail conditions in 2012, and further arrested on behalf of the US authorities under an extradition warrant after the Ecuadorian authorities withdrew asylum. An indictment dated 6 March 2018 and unveiled that day charges Julian Assange with one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, including accessing classified information, in relation to leaks of US government materials by former military analyst and whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. Assange faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Although Julian Assange was not directly charged with publishing classified information, the indictment includes a list of actions that fall under journalistic activities, namely encouraging sources to provide information, protecting their anonymity and using secure means of communication. Prosecuting Assange for these actions could have a chilling effect on press freedom because it creates precedent and raises risks of similar prosecution of journalists for legitimate practices, such as those outlined in the indictment, which journalists use as part of their professional work.

According to reports, US prosecutors may seek to bring additional charges against Julian Assange, who is currently in custody and due to testify via video-link on 2 May. US prosecutors have until 12 June to outline their case to the British authorities.

The broad nature of the US indictment against Assange is a real threat to journalists and press freedom worldwide because it potentially criminalises legitimate journalistic practices. The treatment meted out to his accused co-conspirator Chelsea Manning shows that these concerns are real, and Assange would be at risk of serious human rights violations, were he to be extradited to the US,’ said Salil Tripathi, chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

On 11 April 2019, the British authorities found Julian Assange guilty of breaching bail in 2012, an offense that carries up to 12 months in prison. Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over one allegation of rape and one allegation of sexual molestation and coercion, which he denies. Swedish prosecutors have announced they are reviewing a request to reopen the rape investigation, which they had to close in 2017 because they were unable to formally notify Assange. The Swedish authorities have until August 2020 to investigate the rape allegation.

‘Allegations of unlawful, non-consensual sexual activity in Sweden should be investigated and resolved on their own merits. Due process must be followed and the rights of the victim and defendant protected. The Swedish authorities should be made aware that the case against Assange in Sweden is no ground for extradition to the US and ought to be handled as a separate issue. His extradition to the US could have severe implications for journalistic work and practice far beyond Assange’s case,’ said Ola Larsmo, PEN International Board Member.

Additional information

Between 2009 and 2010, whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, then a military analyst in the US army, leaked classified US government documents to the website WikiLeaks, which revealed that the US army, the CIA and Iraqi and Afghan forces had committed human rights violations. She was held in pre-trial detention for over three years, including 11 months in conditions that the UN Special Rapporteur on torture said amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Responding to reports that Julian Assange was to be imminently expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy, the Special Rapporteur argued that his likely extradition to the United States would expose him to ‘a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial, and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ Several UN experts also warned that he would be at risk of serious human rights violations.

PEN adamantly supports the right of all media to publish leaked documents and materials they have received from third parties. While publishing such materials entails a high level of editorial judgment and discretion, principles of press freedom and freedom of information require that these decisions remain in the hands of the publishers themselves, operating independently and free from governmental interference or pressure. WikiLeaks has been criticized for releasing unredacted materials, putting the identity of sources at risk. PEN calls on WikiLeaks to adhere to international standards and norms of journalistic practice and protect its sources with far greater scrutiny and duty of care than what it has shown, to ensure that individuals identified in the materials it publishes are protected from reprisals, because their safety is contingent on their anonymity.

Chelsea Manning’s 35-year prison sentence was commuted in 2017. She was jailed again in March 2019 for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks and recently held in solidarity confinement for 28 days. She is to remain behind bars until she testifies or until the grand jury concludes its work. PEN urges all governments to strengthen the legal protection of whistle-blowers in order to bring national laws in line with international legal standards, including Article 12 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 email: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org

Refugees denied international protection and shown cruelty and inhumanity

The continued detention of Kurdish-Iranian writer and activist, Behrouz Boochani, is an egregious violation of international standards of protection for refugees and exposes Australia’s cruel disregard for the welfare of asylum seekers. On Human Rights Day, PEN International calls on Australia’s authorities to end its unacceptable treatment of asylum seekers and immediately find safe and meaningful resettlement options for Behrouz Bouchani and all other refugees currently stranded on Manus Island and Nauru in line with international law.


Read the full article on PEN International’s website.

An evening of inspiration, music, food supporting Hrant Dink

Music by  Meyhané

Meyhané is an ensemble of Melbourne-based musicians passionate about performing traditional music from Anatolia, The Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean.

The Melbourne event coincides with the International Hrant Dink Awards in Istanbul. http://www.hrantdinkodulu.org/

The awards are presented to people who work for a world free of discrimination, racism and violence.

Two awards are presented annually.

One of the 2018 Award winners in 2018, MURAT ÇELIKKAN said:

“It is the struggle for human rights that will light the torch of hope against hopelessness, not only in Turkey but in the entire world.”

Delicious home-made Turkish vegetarian finger food and sweets


$50 per person, bookings only

 At the Mark Street Hall, 1 Mark St, Fitzroy North

Sunday 15th September, 2019           6.00 to 9.00 pm

Contact Con or Jo

Bookings by September 10: admin@penmelbourne.org

No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani

Kurdish writer and filmmaker Behrouz Boochani has been detained and marooned on Manus Island for five years by the Australian government.

Seeking refuge from persecution in his own country, Behrouz has committed no crime, he has been held without charge. The refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru have suffered the most inhumane conditions and to date twelve have died while in immigration detention. Throughout this time Behrouz has kept writing, under impossible conditions. And now, we have his book – No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, translated from the Farsi by Omid Tofighian.

Seeking refuge from persecution in his own country, Behrouz has committed no crime, he has been held without charge. The refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru have suffered the most inhumane conditions and to date twelve have died while in immigration detention. Throughout this time Behrouz has kept writing, under impossible conditions. And now, we have his book – No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, translated from the Farsi by Omid Tofighian.