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Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina, Raif Badawi and Amanuel Asrat .

Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina, Raif Badawi and Amanuel Asrat .

13 October 2015

Quebec City, Canada – PEN International’s Assembly of Delegates, meeting at the organisation’s 81st international Congress in Quebec City, Canada this week, have today called for the immediate and unconditional release of two imprisoned writers Raif Badawi and Amanuel Asrat and justice for murdered Honduran journalist Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina.

The three writers will be featured as “Empty Chairs” during the three days of the Congress.  Each year, PEN International selects individual imprisoned writers whose cases are emblematic of the dangers faced by their colleagues around the world. These writers are represented by an ‘empty chair’ which acts as a reminder of the writers’ absence and separation from their colleagues. As part of the campaign for the writers, three empty chairs will be set up in the main square in Québec City throughout the duration of PEN Congress, to serve as a reminder of the grave dangers writers and journalist face across the globe in carrying out their work.

‘Three names out of almost 900 writers of every sort, in prison, in danger; another 200 murdered every year. Here are 3 emblematic stories of courage and suffering for the right to speak up. The answer is simple. Free them. Honour them.’ – PEN International president, John Ralston Saul.

‘Three names, three cases, three insults to justice which will be present in delegates’ minds; symbols of many others, of all those among the writers who have been bold enough to speak up in their country. They are urging us to act and are sitting like ghosts on these chairs that have been set up in the city; they demand a protest on our part, they want us to intervene in their favour.’   – Émile Martel, président, Centre québécois du P.E.N. international.

The three Empty Chairs:

Raif Badawi is a Saudi Arabian activist, editor, blogger and co-founder of the website Liberal Saudi Network. He was arrested on 17 June 2012 after organising a conference to mark a “day of liberalism” and the website was ordered closed by a judge.

In 2014 Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (over US$260,000) on charges of ‘insulting Islam’ and ‘founding a liberal website.’ On 9 January 2015, Badawi received the first 50 of the 1,000 lashes. Subsequent rounds of punishment have been postponed on medical grounds. PEN International is calling for Badawi’s sentence of flogging to be halted immediately, for his conviction to be overturned and for his immediate and unconditional release.

Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar and the couple’s three children now live in Sherbrooke, Que., after escaping Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Amanuel Asrat is an award-winning Eritrean poet, critic and editor-in-chief of the leading newspaper ዘመን (Zemen, meaning The Times).   Asrat was arrested at his home on the morning of 23 September 2001 amid a crackdown on state and private media.

Fourteen years later the country remains in the iron grip of President Isaias Afwerki. Freedom of expression continues to be severely repressed. Current estimates suggest there are at least 23 journalists held without due process in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance. It is widely believed that between four and nine of the 11 journalists detained in September 2001 have since died. Asrat is believed to be among the few surviving journalists, detained in the maximum security prison, Eiraeiro, north of Asmara.

PEN International demands that the fate of all detained journalists be immediately clarified by the Eritrean authorities and that those still alive should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina was the owner of Honduran television station Vida Televisión and a correspondent for Globo TV, known for its criticism of the Honduran government. He was shot and killed aged 43 on 7 December 2013 by unidentified gunmen in his home.

Family members believe the journalist was killed for exposing corruption in a local hospital. Before his death, Argeñal reported receiving death threats from people he believed to be linked to the hospital’s administration. Argeñal was also a member of the opposition political party Libertad y Refundación and Vida Televisión had voiced support for the party. Argeñal’s murder remains unsolved and there has been almost no progress in the investigation, despite specialist investigative units having been assigned to the case.

PEN considers Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina to be an emblematic case, illustrative of the severe crisis of impunity for lethal violence against journalist in Honduras, and has been active in campaigning on his family’s behalf for justice for Argeñal’s killing.

For more information please contact Sahar Halaimzai: Sahar.halaimzai@pen-international.org | +44 7514139606


PEN International calls on Canada to safeguard freedom of expression as the 81st PEN Congress opens in Quebec City
PEN International calls on Canada to safeguard freedom of expression as the 81st PEN Congress opens in Quebec City