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DOMESTIC NEWS

MEXICO: PEN CONDEMNS RECENT THREATS AGAINST JOURNALISTS

PEN is gravely concerned by the pervasive attacks and threats continuously being made against Mexican journalists.

Information Saves Lives

PEN Center USA’s Freedom to Write Program dedicates itself to preserving the right to freedom of expression. In the last three years, we've launched more than 100 advocacy campaigns, advocating for imperiled writers and against governments who do not honor the international commitment to uphold this right. PEN Center USA launches a new campaign responding to current events every two weeks, mobilizing PEN Center USA members to take action on cases of critical concern, domestically and internationally.

Focusing primarily on threatened, censored, and imprisoned writers, the Freedom to Write Program also provides awareness and information on a broad spectrum of current events. By spotlighting these domestic and international cases, unwanted attention is cast on the offending authorities, often resulting in positive action benefiting the writer(s) in question.

PEN supports imperiled writers, fight against governments that impede the right to freedom of expression, and gives a platform to trusted voices speaking on current political and pressing issues.

In 2017, we continued to our fight on behalf of journalists and authors as the domestic arm of our Freedom to Write Program has become even more crucial. As an organization determined to defend the First Amendment, we have remained steadfast in our efforts to defend journalists since the new administration has been in office.

The administration has been unabashed in their outright defamation and exclusion of the press. As an outgrowth of this, we have seen more journalists arrested at the sight of protests.

Already this year, we have already run two Freedom to Write domestic petitions addressing this concern. The first petition demanded that U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia drop all criminal charges against the six journalists that were arrested while covering the protests around Donald Trump’s inauguration. We were happy to report that charges have been dropped for five of the journalists. Aaron Cantú, a freelance journalist and activist, remains charged with felony rioting, according to court records.

Most recently, we called on the local authorities to drop the charges made against the six journalists including Jenni Monet, who was covering protests against the North Dakota Access pipeline.

These two petitions have garnered many signatures and inspired action among our members. PEN sees our membership and community advocating for freedom of speech more than ever before, and we will continue to watch these cases closely as we fight to protect the rights of the press.

On November 9th, 2016, the literary journal The Rattling Wall and PEN Center USA put out a call for post-election poems, stories, and essays forming Only Light Can Do That. Work poured in from across the country, not just from writers, but from teachers, doctors, activists, analysts, moms, dads, even school kids. We immediately went into production on a collection of these voices in anthology form.Only Light Can Do That serves as a testament to the voices of the resistance and to the people who will continue to write as a way to protest. 

PEN Center USA has also created the Writers Respond Essay Series where an author takes on a First Amendment issue. On the eve of the inauguration, we asked writers and journalists to share short essays of strength, hope, reflection, and resistance. These essays are a part of a series that demonstrates PEN Center USA's continued efforts to defend freedom of expression and the power of words to get these initiatives out in the world.

WRITERS RESPOND

OPPORTUNITY IN CRISIS: FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE IN LOS ANGELES
Amelia Gray gives us insight into the immigration crisis happening in the courtrooms.

INAUGURATION ESSAYS
On the eve of the inauguration, we asked writers and journalists to share short essays of strength, hope, reflection, and resistance. Natashia Deón, Chiwan Choi, Alex Espinoza, Litsa Dremousis, Bill Minutaglio, Sam Quinones, and Robert Jensen responded.

CLIMATE CHANGE ESSAYS
Environmental safety is a fundamental human right, and we, as a first amendment organization must ensure that writers have a space to write freely. Charles Yu, Rae Meadows, Oliver Milman (The Guardian), Kristine Ong Muslim, and Saad Z. Hossain responded.

The Emerging Voice Fellowship, a literary mentorship that aims to provide new writers who are isolated from the literary establishment, also featured essays focused on freedom to write. The first featured essay is by Fellow Kirin Khan: “To touch courage. This is the essence of the Freedom to Write. Writers throughout the world are fighting to tell stories that matter; they know that the fight for justice, for freedom, depends on their willingness to speak the truth.”

EMERGENCY WRITERS FUND

The PEN Emergency Fund for Writers is a fund for professional—published or produced—writers in acute, financial crisis. The funds give legal support, pay medical bills, and aid a writer in securing their safety. These donations provide crucial funds to writers who fall under threat, whether from censorship or prison, or in some cases death.


Awards and the Emergency Writers' Fund

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. 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.

For the Emergency Writers Fund, donations are collected with the purpose of helping other writers or their families for lawyer’s fees, bail, or medical needs.

Freedom to Write Calendar
February 21 International Mother Language Day
March 9 International Women's Day
March 21 World Poetry Day
April 24-25 Kurdish PEN/PEN Turkey Peace Conference
April 25-May 1 PEN World Voices Festival
May 3 World Press Freedom Day
May 31-June 2, 2017 In Other Words: the 2017 Biennial PEN International Writers in Prison Conference in Norway
June 17 Anniversary of the Arrest of Raif Badawi
June 20 World Refugee Day
August 19 International Youth Day
September 15 Anniversary of the Arrest of Azimjon Askarov
September 18 - 21, 2017 The 83rd PEN International Congress in Lviv, Ukraine
September 21 International Day of Peace
September 30 International Translation Day
November 2 International Day to End Impunity
November 15 Day of the Imprisoned Writer
December 8 Anniversary of the Arrest of Liu Xiaobo
December 10 Human Rights Day
RAN Archives
03/17/2017

BAHRAIN: CONCERN FOR HEALTH OF ACADEMIC, ACTIVIST AND BLOGGER DR. ABDULJALIL AL-SINGACE.

PEN is deeply concerned for the health and wellbeing of prominent Bahraini academic, activist and blogger Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, currently detained in Jau prison serving a life sentence for his peaceful opposition activities. According to the family, Dr. Al-Singace was urgently transferred to a military hospital last week. Doctors indicated that he had suffered severe dehydration. On March 12th, 2017, prison authorities reportedly refused to allow Dr. Al-Singace to attend a hospital appointment as he refused to wear the prison uniform and handcuffs. Dr. Al-Singace has long required specialist medical treatment for ongoing health problems, some of which result from torture and ill-treatment in prison. PEN International calls for Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace to be granted access to all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency, and continues to call for his immediate and unconditional release, as well as all those detained in Bahrain in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a state party.

READ MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON THIS CASE HERE


03/16/2017

TURKEY: TURKISH-GERMAN JOURNALIST DENIZ YÜCEL MUST BE RELEASED IMMEDIATELY

PEN expresses grave concern regarding the arrest and detention of Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, who was charged on February 27th, 2017 with incitement to hatred and making propaganda in support of a terrorist organization. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

PEN International fears that Deniz Yücel is being punished for his articles on corruption as well as the ongoing conflict in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast of Turkey. The organization calls on the Turkish authorities to release him immediately.

READ MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON THIS CASE HERE


03/06/2017

EGYPT: RELEASE BLOGGER ALAA ABD EL FATTAH

PEN continues to call for the release of blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, in light of the two-year anniversary of his imprisonment last week. He was sentenced to five years in prison on February 23, 2015 following a retrial, for contravening a repressive law which restricts peaceful demonstrations. PEN believes he is imprisoned for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly and is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

PEN is also concerned by recent reports that Abd El Fattah and other prisoners at Tora Prison Complex B (where Abd El Fattah is imprisoned) are not allowed to receive any books, apart from textbooks for study purposes. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states that recreational and cultural activities should be provided, and that prisoners should be allowed some contact with the outside world, including by receiving correspondence from family as well as having access to newspapers, periodicals or special institutional publications. PEN believes that books and newspapers are essential for the transmission of thought and enrichment of culture and education, and calls for the authorities to allow Alaa Abd El Fattah and all other prisoners in Tora Prison Complex B to receive books and other printed materials such as magazines and newspapers.

READ MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON THIS CASE HERE


03/06/2017

AZERBAIJAN: CRACKDOWN ON FREE EXPRESSION ACCELERATES WITH CONVICTION OF PROMINENT BLOGGER

PEN condemns in the strongest possible terms the sentencing on March 3rd of Mehman Huseynov, Azerbaijani journalist and chairman of the country’s leading freedom of expression group, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, to two years in jail on defamation charges. He was taken into custody from the courtroom, without being allowed to speak in his defense.

The 25 organizations who have signed this statement are deeply concerned by the continued targeting of Mehman Huseynov and call on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him and all other political prisoners, and to reverse the continuous clampdown on freedom of expression occurring in the country.

READ MORE ABOUT THIS CASE HERE


03/02/2017

TURKEY: JOURNALIST DENIZ YÜCEL ARRESTED IN LATEST CRACKDOWN ON MEDIA FREEDOM

The arrest of Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel marks an alarming new chapter in Turkey’s assault on freedom of expression, and PEN calls on the Turkish authorities to release him and other detained journalists and writers immediately.

Deniz Yücel, who works for the German newspaper Die Welt, was formally charged on 27 February 2017 with spreading terrorist propaganda and incitement to hatred. He had been held in detention since 14 February 2017.

The arrest of Deniz Yücel signals a dangerous escalation of the Turkish authorities’ crackdown on media freedom,” said Jennifer Clement, PEN International President. “By prosecuting a German journalist, the authorities are clearly attempting to muzzle the foreign press and intimidate all journalists into silence.”

READ MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON THIS CASE HERE


03/01/2017

CHINA – TIBET: PEN REITERATES ITS CALLS FOR THE RELEASE OF WRITER AND EDITOR KUNCHOK TSEPHEL GOPEY TSANG

PEN reiterates its calls on the Chinese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Tibetan writer and editor, Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang. Gopey Tsang, the co-founder/editor of the Tibetan language website Chomei (The Lamp), www.tibetcm.com, was convicted of “disclosing state secrets” on November 12th 2009, and is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence. February 26th 2017 marked the eighth anniversary of his arrest. On the basis of the available evidence, PEN International believes that he is very likely to have been imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. PEN is also concerned by reports of the deterioration of Gopey Tsang’s health and calls on the authorities to ensure that he is granted access to all necessary medical care.

READ MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON THIS CASE HERE

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.


02/23/2017

HONDURAS: CONCERNS FOR THE SAFETY OF JOURNALIST JAIRO LÓPEZ FOLLOWING SMEAR CAMPAIGN

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.

READ MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON THIS CASE HERE


02/23/2017

ONE OF THE WORLD'S LONGEST-IMPRISONED JOURNALISTS HAS BEEN RELEASED

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.


02/13/2017

IRAN: SERIOUS CONCERNS FOR THE HEALTH OF IMPRISONED FILMMAKER KEYWAN KARIMI

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.

READ MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON THIS CASE HERE


02/03/2017

TURKEY: KURDISH IRANIAN WRITER AND FRIEND HELD ON TERROR CHARGES

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.

READ MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON THIS CASE HERE


02/2017

KYRGYZSTAN: JOURNALISTS LIFE-SENTENCE UPHELD ON TRUMPED-UP CHARGES

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.

READ MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON THIS CASE HERE


01/23/2017

AZERBAIJAN: WRITER ILL-TREATED IN PRISON; SERIOUS HEALTH CONCERNS

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.

READ MORE ABOUT HOW YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON THIS CASE HERE

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Honorary Members

PEN USA’s Freedom to Write Committee carries out campaigns on behalf of eighty specially selected writers who are long-term prisoners of conscience. Each honorary member has several “minders” who work diligently, sometimes for years, on his/her case. Minders write letters to foreign governments and diplomatic representatives, communicate with and provide vital support to the honorary member and his/her family, and encourage American officials to implement sound policy that represents the United States’ commitment to freedom of expression.

Awards/Fund

Each year PEN USA presents 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 USA’s annual Literary Awards Festival. Funds are collected from our members for the purpose of helping other writers or their families for lawyer’s fees, bail or medical needs.

First Amendment Action Committee

The First Amendment Action Committee responds to assaults on free speech within American borders. Research is done and alerts are issued solely by the Freedom to Write Committee and are then sent out to members of the First Amendment Action Committee so they are able to respond to such concerns. The Committee is currently investigating and protesting the silencing of the press, violations of academic freedom, restrictions on the Internet, and measures to curb the exchange of ideas within the United States.

Emergency Actions

As a member of the Rapid Action Network of International PEN, the PEN USA Freedom to Write Committee receives and responds immediately to reports of arrests, attacks, and threats to more than 900 writers currently at risk around the world. Alerts are issued from International PEN via email to committee members, who then write letters of appeal to appropriate officials. Each year PEN USA’s efforts result in the release of dozens of writers worldwide. Recently released writers include Julia Ceclia Delgado of Cuba, Tamrat Zuma of Ethiopia and Esber Yagmurdereli of Turkey.

Initiatives

PEN 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.

About

“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 USA from his prison cell in Nigeria shortly before his execution.