PEN is seriously concerned for the safety of PEN Honduras member and journalist Jairo López who is facing threats following a smear campaign. López, who hosts TV News program El Informador for a local television channel Canal 21 in Choluteca, southern Honduras, is known for his investigative journalism. According to López, a smear campaign against him began on February 7th, 2017 when a piece was posted on social media claiming that the Public Prosecutor had issued a warrant for his arrest for being the leader of a local criminal gang and an emissary of a well-known drug trafficker. PEN calls on the Honduran authorities to ensure the safety of Jairo López and to investigate the threats against him as a matter of urgency.
Claims such as those made against López not only damage his reputation as a journalist, but, in a country considered one of the most deadly for journalists, they also pose a serious threat to both him and his family. Since the video was posted, Lopez reports receiving threats and men on motorcycles have been seen circling his house.
PEN believes the smear campaign is in response to an unfavorable report on El Informador showing the President of the National Congress being attacked by protestors at a political gathering in Apacilagua, southern Honduras. López is believed to be targeted as he is the director of the TV news program responsible for broadcasting the video.
PEN welcomes news of the release of prominent Uzbek journalist Muhammad Bekjanov on 22 February 2017, who spent 18 years in prison on politically-motivated charges.
“We are pleased to hear that Muhammad Bekjanov has been released, although he should have never been imprisoned in the first place. One of the world’s longest-imprisoned journalists, Bekjanov was unfairly tried and tortured yet no one has been held accountable,” said Jennifer Clement, PEN International President. “We demand justice for Bekjanov. All other writers and journalists unfairly imprisoned in Uzbekistan must also be released immediately.”
Muhammad Bekjanov is the former editor of the banned Erk opposition party newspaper and brother of exiled opposition leader Muhammad Salih. He was arrested in March 1999 after being forcibly returned to Uzbekistan from Ukraine, accused of involvement in a series of explosions in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, the previous month. He said he was tortured into confessing yet the authorities did not investigate his allegations and in August 1999 sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Although his sentence was reduced in 2003, he received an additional five years in December 2011 for allegedly violating prison rules just weeks before he was due to be released.
During his imprisonment, Muhammad Bekjanov suffered a broken leg, lost most of his teeth and his hearing in one ear as a result of alleged mistreatment and contracted tuberculosis.
Muhammad Bekjanov is an Honorary Member of English PEN, PEN America and PEN Canada.
PEN is seriously concerned for the health of imprisoned filmmaker Keywan Karimi. The prominent Kurdish filmmaker, who has been in prison since 23 November 2016, is in need of urgent medical care after multiple episodes of pulmonary bleeding. Doctors at Tehran’s Elvin prison have said that he has bronchitis and an acute lung infection and have advised a transfer to a specialized facility. However, the prison authorities have reportedly refused to authorize this transfer. Karimi was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and 223 lashes on 13 October 2015 by Branch 28 of Tehran Revolutionary Court for ‘insulting the holy sanctities’, ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘illegitimate relations’. An Appeals Court upheld his sentence in February 2016, ruling to suspend five of his six-year punishment for a period of five years. He is now serving a one-year prison term and he is expected to receive 223 lashes while in prison. PEN reiterates its call on the Iranian authorities to quash Karimi’s conviction. PEN is also gravely concerned about the flogging sentence, as it violates the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. The organization urges the Iranian authorities to grant Karimi all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency.
PEN is concerned at the arrest and detention of Kurdish Iranian writer and journalist Sajjad Jahan Fard, and that of his friend Hassan Baladeh, who were charged on 25 January 2017 with “membership of a terrorist organisation” after taking pictures during a tourist visit to the city of Mardin, in the predominantly Kurdish South-east of Turkey. They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
PEN fears that Sajjad Jahan Fard and Hassan Baladeh are being targeted for their links with Kurdish intellectuals, academics and publishing houses. The organization calls on the Turkish authorities to release them immediately.
PEN condemns the decision of the Chui Regional Court in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to uphold on appeal the life sentence of journalist Azimjon Askarov on charges of complicity in murder and inciting hatred for reporting on fatal ethnic violence in June 2010.
PEN believes that Askarov was targeted solely for his critical reporting of police corruption and that he should be released immediately and unconditionally.
PEN is deeply concerned about reports that on 23 January 2017 writer and blogger Rashad Ramazanov was moved into solitary confinement at Baku Prison #2, where he is serving a nine-year sentence for his anti-government writings. He is also being denied family visits and access to his lawyer. Ramazanov suffers from a number of medical problems and PEN International has serious concerns for his well-being and physical integrity.
What is the Freedom to Write Advocacy Network?
The Freedom to Write Advocacy Network expands on cases of global concern, initiated by PEN International. In the last three years, we've launched more than 100 Advocacy Network campaigns, advocating for imperiled writers and against governments who do not honor the international commitment to uphold the right to freedom of expression.
Where is the Freedom to Write Advocacy Network located?
As the advocacy that PEN Center USA engages in is of a global nature, the best and only place for the FTW Advocacy Network to exist is online.
How frequently does the Freedom to Write Advocacy Network go into action?
Every two weeks, PEN Center USA starts a new campaign, responding to current events. Often, ongoing events need more immediate attention, and in these situations, PEN Center USA's membership is promptly notified, and the Advocacy Network mobilized.
Who does the Freedom to Write Advocacy Network aim to help?
The FTW Advocacy Network focuses primarily on writers who are currently threatened or censored, or have been imprisoned or killed. In some cases, current events are of a broader nature than those concerning a specific writer or writers. If the circumstance requires it, the Advocacy Network can shift to providing awareness and information on the broader topic, while still appealing to governments specifically on behalf of imperiled writers.
What is the end result of a Freedom to Write Advocacy Network campaign?
When a campaign comes to an end, the accompanying petition is printed, signed, and sent to representatives of authorities in the countries concerned, as well as to international ambassadors in the United States. By pointing a spotlight on these international cases, unwanted attention is cast on the offending authorities, often resulting in positive action benefiting the writer(s) in question.
PEN Center USA is unwavering in the belief that information saves lives, which is the tenet that guides our actions in advocating for imperiled writers through the Freedom to Write Advocacy Network.
“I’ve often envied those writers in the Western world who can peacefully practice their craft and earn a living thereby… What [the authorities here] cannot stand is that a writer should give voice to the voiceless or organize them for action. In short, they do not want literature on the streets!” —KEN SARO WIWA, written to PEN Center USA from his prison cell in Nigeria shortly before his execution.
Since 1921, PEN International has championed freedom of expression and defended writers of conscience. PEN International members were influential in crafting Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression… and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” PEN International holds Category A status at UNESCO and consultative status with the United Nations, where the organization lobbies on behalf of writers who are harassed, imprisoned, and murdered for the peaceful expression of their views.
As a member of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee, PEN Center USA works to secure the release and to support the families of writers of conscience around the world. Members visit their colleagues in jail in other parts of the world and hand-deliver aid in the form of letters and financial assistance whenever possible. With public events and over the Internet, members raise awareness about freedom of expression abroad while working to protect the First Amendment at home.
Released writers include Julia Cecilia Delgado of Cuba, Tamrat Zuma of Ethiopia, and Esber Yagmurdereli of Turkey.
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Each year PEN Center USA presents the Freedom to Write and First Amendment Awards to individuals and organizations that have produced notable work in the face of extreme adversity or demonstrated exceptional courage in the defense of free expression. The awards are presented each fall at PEN Center USA’s Annual Literary Awards Festival. Funds are collected from our members with the purpose of helping other writers or their families for lawyer’s fees, bail, or medical needs. Recent honorees include Cuban dissident Raul Rivero, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association, the American Library Association, Sahal Abdulle, and U Win Tin.
PEN Center USA’s Freedom to Write Committee seeks to spotlight ongoing dangers and disturbing new trends in the suppression of expression. We do this by investigating and reporting on regional and country-specific problems. Past efforts include the Nigeria Initiative, aimed at publicizing the link between oil politics and the silencing of dissent in Nigeria, and a coordinated campaign to end violent attacks against journalists in Latin America. Click here to visit the RAN Archives.