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For the Day of the Imprisoned Writer and the Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists

Persecuted, threatened with death, deprived of freedom, writers and journalists are on the roads of exile.

Any true democracy respects and protects freedom of expression because it is its cornerstone. Without this essential freedom, there can be no flowering of literary expression nor culture of genuine peace and social justice in the world. Yet, this freedom is very fragile and in great danger. In many repressive states, it is increasingly difficult for artists, writers and journalists to thwart censorship, to circumvent the liberticidal laws. International public opinion must support the authors of Writing and Art in their fight against a heinous and ruthless blackmail. It is the choice between self-censorship and the ultimate censure – the murder of artists, writers and journalists whose ‘’courage and honesty to speak, to write, to create, to draw or to witness’’ disturb. Writers and artists run the risk of severe punishments such as gagging, torture, imprisonment, disappearance or death simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Together, we must say NO to the death penalty pronounced by the Saudi justice against Palestinian poet, our pen-brother Ashraf Fayadh,who has only his speech or his words to defend himself. The atrocious and unjust death he will undego reminds us of this sad and shocking reality :

Persecuted, threatened with death, deprived of liberty, hundreds or even thousands of writers and journalists are on the roads of exile.

We do not forget, 20 years ago, on 10 November 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed by the Nigerian military dictatorship because he told the truth. And the murder of Anna Politkovskaya in Russia, on 7 October 2006 and that of Hrant Dink in Turkey, in January 2007, are the most glaring examples and revolting crime. Or, in Viet Nam, PEN International also mourned the painful and unjust death of blogger and teacher Dinh Dang Dinh occurred on 3 April 2014 at his home, after being sentenced in August 2012 to six years in prison. He was amnestied too late on 21 March 2014, when he was only a dying skeleton devoured by stomach cancer in prison. Shortly before his death, Dinh Dang Dinh said that when he discovered blood in his bowel movement, he formulated many requests to be admitted to a hospital for examination but that the camp warders beat him instead of giving him the adequate treatment he urgently needed. 69-year-old poet Nguyen Huu Cau serving a life sentence in lieu of a death penalty imposed in 1983 was also amnestied in March 2014 for health reasons: he suffers from severe heart failure, blindness in his left eye, failing vision in his right eye, and is almost deaf. While his release is welcome, he should never have been in prison in the first place. We continue to work together to raise public awareness to the plight of persecuted writers and journalists who are in jail for their writings or their opinion.

As a reminder, sent by the RFI to Mali, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon were murdered on 2 November 2013. Since their atrocious death, blood does not stop flowing. Charlie Hebdo was reduced to ashes at the heart of Paris. Elsa Cayat, Jean Cabut, Philippe Honoré, Bernard Verlhac, Georges Wolinski, Stephane Charbonnier, Bernard Maris and Mustapha Ourrad were killed unjustly. Everywhere, pen and pencil continue to be confiscated or destroyed. Drawings, songs, poems are targets of arbitrary political power,  fanaticism and intolerance, secret police surveillance and major organized crime.

During the last 12 months, since 2 November 2014, according to PEN International, at least 49 writers, poets, journalists, bloggers, cartoonists, correctors and filmakers have been murdered, with impunity. We deplore 8 killings in France (Charlie Hebdo), 6 in Mexico (José Moisés Sanchez Cerezo, Ismail Diaz Lopez, Gerardo Nieto Alvarez, Juan Mendoza Delgado, Filadelfo Sanchez Sarmiento, Ruben Espinosa), 5 in Bangladesh (Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Dash, Niloy Chakrabarti, Faisal Arefin Dipan), 5 in India (Jagender Singh, Sandeep Kothari, Raghavendra Dube, Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, Mithilesh Pandey), 4 in Iraq (Thaer Alali, Ammar Al-Sahahbander, Raed Al-Joubouri, Suahaa Ahmed Radhi), 2 in Brazil (Marcos de Barros Leopoldo Guerra, Evany José Metzker), 2 in the Philippines (Nerlita Ledesma, Gregorio Ybanez), 2 in Syria (Kenji Goto Jogo, Khaled al-Asaad), 2 in Turkey (Ibrahim Abdulkadir, Firaz Hamadi), 1 in Azerbaijan (Rasim Aliyev), 1 in Denmark (Finn Nørgaard), 1 in Egypt (Shaimaa El-Sabbagh), 1 in Guatemala (Danilo Lopez), 1 in Kenya (John Kituyi), 1 in Mozambique (Paulo Machava), 1 in Pakistan (Zafarullah Jatak), 1 in Peru (Fernando Raymondi Uribe), 1 in Poland (Lukasz Masiak), 1 in Somalia (Abdullahi Ali Hussein), 1 in South Soudan (Peter Moi Julius), 1 in Ukraine (Oles Buzyna), and 1 in Yemen (Abdul Karim Mohammed Al-Khaiwani).

At the same time, the Writers in Prison Committee has recorded about 900 cases of attacks against our bearers of dreams and adventures, witnesses of human realities around the world. The PEN Congress in Quebec, last October, has adopted resolutions on the very critical situation of the freedom of expression, including those concerning Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, China, Tibet, Viet Nam and Turkey, among many others.

The Congress delegates have expressed their concern about the plight of women writers and men of letters among thousands of their compatriots reported missing in Mediterranean, in their actual deadly exodus. Exiled Vietnamese Writers recalled also the tragedy of many hundreds of thousands Vietnamese boatpeople refugees drowned under the seas in Asia-Pacific after the arrival of communist troops in April 1975.

The 15 November 2015 will be the 34th World Day of the Imprisoned Writer, just 2 weeks after the 2nd International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

On the occasion of these Days – Events, the Suisse Romand PEN Centre, one of the PEN International’s 145 Centres, addresses to you: Please join your voices to ours, to those of thousands of writers, poets, journalists, bloggers, translators and publishers, as well as friends and sympathizers of PEN International, for supporting victims of the tragedies of those being persecuted and punished for freedom of expression.

The following major cases, among many others, inspire to us profound concerns:

  • Juan Carlos Argenal Medina, Honduran journalist, assassinated on 7 December 2013 because he would have had the courage to denounce corruption. The circumstances of his death have not been clarified. No progress in investigations
  • Raif Badawi, Saudi blogger and publisher, sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes, a fine, a travel ban for ten years and a ban on same duration to collaborate in the media for ‘’insult to Islam” and ” creating a Liberal website’’.
  • Amanuel Asrat, Eritrean poet, critic and editor of the major newspaper The Times. Arrested on 23 September 2001 during a crackdown on public and private media. Detained without charge nor trial.
  • Patiwat Saraiyaem et Pornthip Munkong, Khadija Ismayilova (f), Thai student and female student, arrested in August 2014, sentenced to 2 years and a half in prison for lèse-majesté crimes by participating in the staging of a play at Thammasat University in 2013.
  • Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijani investigative journalist, famous for his investigations into corruption at the top of the state and its critics, arrested on 5 December 2014 in a fabricated case. Sentenced on 1 September 2015 to 7 years and a half in prison for ”embezzlement and tax evasion’’.
  • Ho Thi Bich Khuong (f), Vietnamese blogger, human rights defender and author of a memoir in prison, satirical poems and online articles. Interviewed by foreign radio, she denounced the abuse of power against poor women peasants. In June 2006, her husband was mysteriously murdered in their village. Having served two previous prison sentences in 2005 and 2007, she was arrested again in January 2011 and sentenced in December 2011 to 5 years in prison and 3 years in probationary detention, for “propaganda against the Socialist state’’. Tortured in prison and badly beaten by common law detainees. Other aggressors broke her left arm during pre-trial detention. She still suffers from a long-untreated broken collarbone due to lack of adequate medical care. She has frequently been held in solitary confinement for protesting against detention conditions by hunger strikes. She is in very poor health.

Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt,
Centre  Suisse Romand de PEN International
(Comité des Ecrivains en prison).
Genève 2-15 Novembrer 2015