PEN International / PEN Rhyngwladol

GWELER ISOD AM Y GYMRAEG

Rights Groups Demand Justice for journalist Mehman Huseynov Tortured in Azerbaijan

12 January 2017

The undersigned organisations strongly condemn the abduction and torture of Azerbaijani journalist Mehman Huseynov and call on Azerbaijan’s authorities to immediately investigate the case and to hold those responsible accountable. Moreover, Huseynov’s conviction should be overturned and the travel ban against him lifted. We further call upon the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists, bloggers and activists currently imprisoned in Azerbaijan solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Mehman Huseynov, Azerbaijan’s top political blogger and chairman of the local press freedom group, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), the country’s leading press freedom group, was abducted in Central Baku at around 8 pm local time on Monday 9 January. He was pushed into a vehicle by unknown assailants and driven away. His whereabouts were unknown until early afternoon on Tuesday, when it emerged that Huseynov had been apprehended by unidentified police agents.

On 10 January, Huseynov was taken to Nasimi District Court, where he was tried on charges of disobeying the police (Article 535.1 of the Administrative Offences Code), which carries a sentence of up to 30 days in jail. The Court released him; however, he was fined 200 AZN (approx. 100 EUR).

Huseynov said he was tortured while in police custody. He reported being driven around for several hours, blindfolded and suffocated with a bag. He also said that he was given electric shocks in the car. On being brought to Nasimi District Police Department he lost consciousness and collapsed. An ambulance was called and he was given painkillers and sleep-inducers by way of injection. His lawyers confirmed that his injuries were visible during the court hearing. The court also ordered that Nasimi district prosecutor’s office conduct investigation into Mehman Huseynov’s torture reports.

“We resolutely denounce this act of torture and wish Mehman Huseynov a rapid recovery,” said Gulnara Akhundova, the Head of Department at International Media Support. “All charges against Huseynov must be dropped unconditionally, and those responsible for his torture should be tried in an independent and impartial manner, as should those in the chain of command who are implicated.”

“The fact that Mehman Huseynov was convicted of disobeying the police for refusing to get into the car of his abductors beggars belief. We know that the Azerbaijan authorities have a long history of bringing trumped up charges against writers and activists.  His conviction should be overturned immediately,” said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

“This is another example of continued repression against journalists in Azerbaijan, which is why RSF considers Aliyev a predator of press freedom. Huseynov is one of dozens of journalists and citizen journalists who remain under politically motivated travel bans. Although he has been released, he remains at serious risk. The international community must act now to protect him and other critical voices in Azerbaijan,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

Although Huseynov’s family and colleagues had repeatedly contacted the police since his disappearance on 9 January 2017, they were not informed about his arrest until early afternoon the following day when he was brought to court.  Hence, the undersigned organisations consider Huseynov’s abduction as an enforced disappearance, defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials, or their agents, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has repeatedly clarified that ‘there is no time limit, not matter how short, for an enforced disappearance to occur’. As a signatory of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), Azerbaijan is obliged to refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the ICPPED’s objective and purpose.

Despite the much-lauded release of political prisoners in March 2016, the persecution of critical voices in Azerbaijan has accelerated in recent months. Currently, there are dozens of journalists and activists behind bars for exercising their right to free expression in Azerbaijan.

“The government has sought to destroy civil society and the media in Azerbaijan, while developing relations with Western states to secure lucrative oil and gas deals,” said Katie Morris, Head of the Europe and Central Asia Programme at ARTICLE 19. “While the government may release a journalist one day, the following day they will arrest or harass others, creating a climate of fear to prevent people speaking out. The international community must clearly condemn this behaviour and apply pressure for systemic reform,” she added.

“We must stop the sense of impunity on attacks against journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, of which this attack against Mehman Huseynov is a sad illustration. The international community must seriously address this climate of impunity and take concrete actions, through the Council of Europe and the United Nations Human Rights Council, to regularly monitor the human rights situation in Azerbaijan and hold the authorities to their commitments in this regard,” said Ane Tusvik Bonde, Regional Manager for Eastern Europe and Caucasus at the Human Rights House Foundation.

The undersigned organisations call on the authorities to take the necessary measures to put an end to vicious cycle of impunity for wide-spread human rights violations in the country.

We call on the international community to undertake an immediate review of their relations with Azerbaijan to ensure that human rights are at more consistently placed at the heart of all on-going negotiations with the government. Immediate and concrete action must be taken to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its international obligations and encourage meaningful human rights reform in law and practice.

Supporting organisations:

ARTICLE 19

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Civil Rights Defenders

English PEN

FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

Front Line Defenders

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Human Rights House Foundation

IFEX

Index on Censorship

International Media Support

International Partnership for Human Rights

NESEHNUTI

Netherlands Helsinki Committee

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

PEN America

PEN International

People in Need

Reporters Without Borders

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

Grwpiau Hawliau yn Galw am Gyfiawnder i Newyddiadurwr Mehman Huseynov sy’n Cael ei Arteithio yn Azerbaijan

Ionawr 13eg 2017

Mae’r sefydliadau sydd wedi llofnodi isod yn condemnio achosion hergydw ac arteithio Mehman Huseynov, newyddiadurwr o Azerbaijani, ac yn galw ar awdurdodau Azerbaijan i archwilio’r achos yn syth ac i ddal y rheini sy’n gyfrifol i gyfri. Ar ben hynny, dylai euogfarn a gwaharddiad teithio Huseynov gael eu gwrthdroi. Rydym yn galw ymhellach ar awdurdodau Azerbaijani i ryddhau’r holl newyddiadurwyr, blogwyr a gweithredwyr sydd yng ngharchar yn Azerbaijan am ymarfer eu hawl i ryddid mynegiant yn syth ac yn ddiamod.

Cafodd Mehman Huseynov, prif flogwr gwleidyddol Azerbaijan, cadeirydd grŵp rhyddid y wasg lleol, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), grŵp rhyddid y wasg arweiniol y wlad, ei gipio yn nghanol Baku am tua 8yh amser lleol ar ddydd Llun 9 Ionawr. Cafodd ei wthio mewn i gerbyd gan ymosodwyr anhysbys a’i yrru i ffwrdd. Roedd ei leoliad yn anhysbys tan brynhawn dydd Mawrth, pan ddaeth hi i’r amlwg bod Huseynov wedi cael ei ddal gan asiantau heddlu anhysbys.

Ar 10 Ionawr, aethant â Huseynov i Lys Nasimi, lle gafodd ei dreialu am anufuddhau’r heddlu (Rhan 535.1 o Gôd Troseddau Gweinyddol), sy’n arwain at ddedfryd o hyd at 30 o ddiwrnodau yn y carchar. Cafodd ei ryddhau gan y llyw; ond cafodd ei ddirwyo 200 AZN (tua. 100 EUR).

Dywedodd Huseynov ei fod e wedi cael ei arteithio tra ei fod e yn nalfa’r heddlu. Adroddodd ei fod e wedi cael ei yrru o gwmpas am oriau, ei fygydeiddio a’i mygu gyda bag. Dywedodd hefyd ei fod e wedi dioddef o siociau trydanol yn y car. Wrth gyrraedd Ardan Heddlu Nasimi, roedd e’n anymwybodol a chwympodd ef. Galwyd ar ambiwlans a rhoddwyd poenladdwyr a meddygon cysgu iddo trwy bigiad. Cadarnhaodd ei gyfreithwyr fod ei anafiadau’n weledol yn ystod y gwrandawiad llys. Gorchmynnodd y llys i swyddfa erlyna Nasimi gynnal archwiliad i adroddon artaith Mehman Huseynov.

“Rydym yn benderfynol ein bod ni’n condemnio’r artaith hyn ac yn gobeithio y bydd Mehman Huseynov yn gwella’n fuan,” dywedodd Gulnara Akhundova, Pennaeth Adran Cefnogaeth Cyfryngau Rhyngwladol. “Mae rhaid i’r holl gyhuddiadau yn erbyn Huseynov cael eu diddymu heb amod, a rhaid i’r bobl sy’n gyfrifol am ei artaith gael eu treialu mewn modd annibynnol a diduedd, fel y rheini yng nghadwyn galw sy’n gysylltiedig.”

“Mae’r ffaith fod wedi cael ei ffeindio’n euog o anufuddhau’r heddlu am wrthod mynd i mewn i gar ei gipwyr yn anghredadwy. Rydym ni’n gwybod bod gan awdurdodau Azerbaijan hanes hir o gyhuddo llenorion a gweithredwyr. Dylai ei euogfarn gael ei wrthdroi yn syth,” dywedodd Salil Tripathi, Cadeirydd Pwyllgor Llenorion yn y Carchar PEN Rhyngwladol.

“Mae hyn yn enghraifft arall o’r gormes parhaol yn erbyn newyddiadurwyr yn a dyna oam mae RSF yn ystyried Aliyev i fod yn ysglafaethwr rhyddid y wasg. Mae Huseynov yn un o ddegau o newyddiadurwyr sy’n parhau i gael eu gwahardd rhag teithio o achos gwleidyddiaeth. Er ei fod wedi cael ei ryddhau, mae e dal mewn peryg difrifol. Mae rhaid i’r gymuned rhyngwladol weithredu yn syth er mwyn ei warchod ef a lleisiau allweddol yn Azerbaijan,” dywedodd Johann Bihr, pennaeth desg RSF Dwyrain Ewrop a Chanol Asia.

Er bod teulu a chydweithwyr Huseynov wedi cysylltu â’r heddlu tro ar ôl tro ers ei ddiflaniad ar 9 Ionawr 2017, ni chafon nhw wybod am ei arestio tan prynhawn y diwrnod canlynol paen oedd ef yn y llys. Felly, mae’r sefydliadau sydd wedi llofnodi isod yn ystyried achos cipio Huseynov yn ddiflaniad a orfodir, wedi’i ddiffinio dan y gyfraith rhyngwladol fel arést neu garchariad person gan swyddogion y wladwriaeth, neu eu hasiantau, wedi’i ddilyn gan wrthodiad i gydnabod amddifadedd rhyddid, neu ddatgelu dyfodol neu leolid person. Mae Grŵp Gweithredol Diflaniadau Gorfodol neu Anwirfoddol y Cenhedloedd Unedig wedi egluro tro ar ôl tro ‘nad oes terfyn amser, dim ots pa mor fyr, am ddiflaniad gorfodol gymryd lle.’ Fel llofnodwr y Confensiwn Rhyngwladol dros Warchod Pob Person rhag Diflaniad Gorfodol (ICPPED), mae Azerbaijan dan rwymedigaeth i ymatal rhag gweithredoedd a fydd yn trechu neu danseilio amcan a phwrpas y ICPPED.

Er gwaethaf rhyddhad carcharorion gwleidyddol a chanmolir yn fawr ym mis Mawrth 2016, mae erledigaeth lleisiau allweddol yn Azerbaijan wedi cynyddu yn ddiweddar. Ar hyn o bryd, mae yna ddegau o newyddiadurwyr a gweithredwyr yn y carchar am ymarfer eu hawl i ryddid mynegiant yn Azerbaijan.

“Mae’r llywodraeth wedi ceisio dinistrio cymdeithas sifil a’r wasg yn Azerbaijan, wrth ddatblygu perthnasau gyda gwladwriaeth y Dwyrain i sicrhau cytundebau nwy ac olew proffidiol,” dywedodd Katie Morris, Pennaeth Rhaglen Ewrop a Chanol Asia yn ARTICLE 19. “Tra bod y llywodraeth yn rhyddhau newyddiadurwr un dydd, byddant yn arestio neu aflonyddu eraill, gan greu ymdeimlad o ofn er mwyn atal pobl rhag mynegi eu barn. Mae rhaid i’r gymuned rhyngwladol wneud hi’n amlwg ei bod yn condemnio’r ymddygiad hyn a brwydro dros ddiwygiad systematig” ychwanegodd hi.

“Mae rhaid i ni ddiweddu’r ymdeimlad o gosb ar ymosodiadau yn erbyn newyddiadurwyr ac amddiffynwyr hawliau dynol yn Azerbaijan, ac mae’r ymosodiad ar Mehman Huseynov yn enghraifft drist o hyn. Rhaid i’r gymuned rhyngwladol fynd i’r afael â’r ymdeimlad hyn a chymryd camau cadarn, trwy Cyngor Ewrop a Chyngor Hawliau Dynol y Cenhedloedd Unedig, er mwyn monitro sefyllfa hawliau dynol yn Azerbaijan a dal yr awdurdodau i gyfrif eu hymrwymiadau,” dywedodd Ane Tusvik Bonde, Rheolwr Rhanbarthol Dwyrain Ewrop a  Caucasus yn Sefydliad Tŷ Hawliau Dynol.

Mae’r sefydliadau sydd wedi llofnodi isod yn galw ar yr awdurdodau i gymryd y camau angenrheidiol i ddiweddu’r cylch cythreulig o gosb am troseddau yn erbyn hawliau dynol yn y wlad.

Rydym ni’n galw ar y gymuned rhyngwladol i wneud adolygiad o’u perthynas gydag Azerbaijan er mwyn sicrhau bod hawliau dynol yn cael eu rhoi wrth wraidd trafodaethau gyda’r llywodraeth. Rhaid i gamau cadarn cael ei gymryd ar unwaith er mwyn dal Azerbaijan i gyfrif am ei rwymedigaethau rhyngwladol ac annog hawliau dynol ystyrlon yn y gyfraith ac yn ymarferol.

Sefydliadau sy’n cefnogi:

ARTICLE 19

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Civil Rights Defenders

English PEN

FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

Front Line Defenders

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Human Rights House Foundation

IFEX

Index on Censorship

International Media Support

International Partnership for Human Rights

NESEHNUTI

Netherlands Helsinki Committee

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

PEN America

PEN International

People in Need

Reporters Without Borders

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

___

Remembering Hrant Dink – A Landmark in History

Hrant Dink

Hrant, as a landmark in history | Ece Temelkuran

This country doesn’t know how to deal with the shame that will come out of honesty. This country doesn’t know how to deal with shame.

There is a history of oblivion, weird as it is. We never forget what we have forgotten. Or what we should be forgetting. There is a history of forgetting as a deed. This is not the linear past of the concept of “oblivion”.  It is more like layer after layer of shame, layer after layer of ignoring the shame, then layers of remembering it, blaming those who remember, wiping off those who remind it from the face of the earth, to make them vanish in the history of oblivion… The History of Oblivion is such a voluminous, convoluted subject.

Hrant Dink, oh Hrant Dink, he stands in this layered history, right at the spot where the circle is completed. Trying to remind us of a scar of 100 years ago, he became a target to become a scar himself buried deep in the history of oblivion. And we are trying not to let this happen.

I sometimes think of us as people who try to prevent the burial of the deceased. How strange… Yet other times we are trying to hold an honourable funeral for our dead, struggling to bury them properly in spite of the vicious king. This is even weirder. Even more Antigone.

Hrant was killed because he was trying to remind us of a history of oddness without shaming us. He was trying to speak without blaming. His was an act of “revolutionary embarrassment”*. Had he shouted aloud, blaming us, finger pointing us out as “murderers”, he wouldn’t have been killed. For our history is one where those who try to mediate are shot. No danger for those who wait on both sides, in trenches of the battleground. Whoever dares to stand in the middle, saying, “Listen for a minute!” is shot in the back of the head. A horrifying signature of murder.

History doesn’t bring to account the deeds that people have done. It is us who do that. If people don’t question, history forgets. Nobody accounts for their deeds in the face of history. If they are asked to do that, it will be the people they will have to face. For that reason, I don’t believe Hrant’s murderers will ever be interrogated in front of history. Who cares if they accounted for what they have done after everybody, especially the murderers, are dead anyway? I, for one, don’t care.

Hrant will make history with his courage, most probably. I would like history to remember him this way. He was a compassionate reminder.

A person who hangs on to the joys of life in spite of the cruel tyrants.

A man who can think in fairness.

A “minority” member who tears his own flesh to be just and fair.

An elegant, yes, mostly this, graceful memory.

This is a country which kills out of shame. Not itself, though. The culture of this country doesn’t know self-punishment. It punishes others. Kills women. Kills children. Kills animals. Kills people. Kills all who don’t cooperate. The enemy is always considered an outside an outsider. This country thinks it’s standing strong on its feet by acting like this. It assumes this can go on. It considers standing as survival and survival as life itself. In this world of struggle for survival, there is no place for elegance or compassion. They invite us to be humans and stay as humans. They make things harder because they don’t want anything in return, their only demand is truly, sincerely, only humanity. They disturb the system because they don’t accept the laws of antagonism and their only claim is for humanity. If they had asked for something else, anything else, the results would have been different, for there is a way of “handling” every other requirement. However, they insist on demanding honesty, the most impossible of all. An unsolvable situation for this country as this country doesn’t know how to deal with the shame that will come out of honesty. This country doesn’t know how to deal with shame. It doesn’t know how to apologize just like it doesn’t know how to be thankful.

Still, Hrant is a sign. A sign that the circle of forgetfulness has come to an end, that there is no place left for those who want to forget. The circle is closing on a logic that is based on forgetfulness, the history of oblivion. Hrant is the point where remembering starts, where there is nowhere else to go.  His life was just that, so is his death.  Hrant is a sign to remember, a sign to look back for guidance for those who want to remember in the name of honour. For he proposed a way of reminding. He did it in a graceful, affectionate way. He told us all about how to carry the burden of shame, how that burden would feel lighter shouldering it with the likes of us. Actually, this is a very terrifying fact for those who insist that burden is unmoveable. Hrant told us that it was not all about shame but also about the future. This is the end of the history of oblivion. A breaking point. A possibility. A fissure.

He is right there. Not where he was  murdered. In the part of history where he used to live. Where he had his voice. It is a landmark. A place to turn back and look for guidance. A place to step on before a jump towards the future. Without  burden. First shouldering that burden then getting rid of it.

*: An expression used by the poet Haydar Ergülen for his fellow poet Gülten Akın.

 

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Saudi Arabia: Arrest of prominent human rights advocate Samar Badawi another blow to freedom of expression

13 January 2014 – The arrest of Samar Badawi, a prominent rights advocate and sister of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, is yet another example of Saudi authorities targeting and intimidating human rights activists and the complete lack of free speech in the country.

According to several reports, Samar Badawi was arrested yesterday  for calling for the release of her former husband Waleed Abu al-Khair and publishing a photo of him in prison on Twitter. She was released on bail this morning.

‘Saudi authorities have once again demonstrated their complete disregard for human rights and freedom of speech.  PEN International calls on Saudi authorities to immediately cease the intimidation of critical voices and the ongoing severe repression of freedom of expression in the country,’ said Jennifer Clement, president of PEN International.  

In May 2014 Samar’s brother, Raif Badawi, was convicted of ‘insulting Islam’ and ‘founding a liberal website’. He received a fine of 1 million riyals (approximately $266,000), a 10-year prison sentence and 1,000 lashes. He had spent almost two years in prison prior to his conviction.

Raif Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, is a prominent human rights lawyer who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in connection to his work protecting and defending freedom of expression and human rights in Saudi Arabia.

PEN International will continue to monitor the progress of Samar Badawi’s case.

 

 

 Letter from Jennifer Clement

December 2015

President of PEN International

to the PEN membership

 

Dear colleagues and friends,

 

It is a great honour to be elected President of our historic organization.  Very few people who have been elected to an office can say that a group of the most exceptional people in the world have voted for them.   I honour your vote knowing that many of you have been tortured, jailed, or live in fear or in exile, or have given your time and resources to defend freedom of expression.

 

As I look at a map of the globe and all our centres, the risks to freedom of expression and the rise of intolerance both from state and non-state actors threaten so many.  Because of this, as PEN moves forward toward its one hundred year anniversary, our organization is more important than ever. When I look at our symbol, the empty chair, I know it is not vacant.  It is so populated, so full, so inhabited by its emptiness. I see Russian poets, Bangladeshi bloggers, Turkish and Ethiopian journalists, girls shot at while trying to go to school, Mexican journalists, Chinese poets, writers hiding from fatwas, assassinated cartoonists and on and on.

 

And, while PEN always defends freedom of expression, we also know, as children and lovers know, words can heal, be medicine, soothe and give peace. Our words can help to increase tolerance and understanding among nations and people.

 

As I read the list of all the writers PEN has helped in these almost 100 years, it is truly remarkable.  PEN changes and saves lives and, life by life, one life at a time, dignifies our world.

 

It was a privilege to campaign with Zeynep Oral and Vida Ognjenović as it’s also a privilege to hold this office after John Ralston Saul’s exceptional presidency.  I look forward to working together in the years ahead.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Jennifer Clement

President

PEN International

 

 

Closing Letter from John Ralston Saul,

President Emeritus, to the PEN membership

 

November 17, 2015

Dear PEN Members, Dear Friends,

A last monthly letter to say thank you and to report on the 81st Congress in Quebec City.

First, the obvious, we have a new President. Jennifer Clement, a wonderful novelist. She was President of PEN Mexico when we organized our first new style international delegation in 2012, so I have seen her handling difficult, risky situations.  I know she is already hard at work and I look forward to being a follower.

It was a remarkable election. All three candidates – Jennifer Clement, Zeynep Oral President of PEN Turkey and Vida Ognjenović President of PEN Serbia as well as an International Vice-President – came from countries with difficult political situations and have had to prove themselves over the years, standing up to authoritarian regimes. I have worked with all three and am filled with admiration for them.

*          *         *

I write this as the news of the Paris and Beirut murders come in. We know what we stand for – against violence, against hatred, for respect of the other however much we disagree, for freedom of thought and voice. For 20 years now a spiral of violence has been turning, ever wider, ever more aggressive, dragging in new layers of society, giving birth to ugly populism, to a renewed racism, to a sense on all sides in these conflicts that free expression is a necessary victim.  But the true victims are those killed, whether in Paris or in Beirut or in Syria.  They, their families, their friends.

What we know is that none of this populism or vengeful thinking has lessened the violence. Nor have the constant moves to promote security systems over citizen’s rights. To the contrary. Violence continues to grow. The strategy is therefore wrong.  Our belief in a humanist way and in free expression becomes ever more essential.

*          *         *

The Congress in Quebec was a great success. It predated the Paris and Beirut murders by a few weeks, but you will know what I mean when I say that each time we gather it is in a dramatic atmosphere of both suffering and success; of crises actual and anticipated.  This is the world of writing and of free speech.

84 centres from 75 countries took part. Some 300 writers, publishers, translators, and yes, bloggers.

As many of you know, it also included one tragedy which has marked us all. Djibril Ly, the President of the new Mauritania PEN Centre – voted in unanimously in Quebec as an official Centre alongside PEN Mali – fell seriously ill and died. Although it was tragic moment, he was never alone. Romana Cacchioli and Anne-Laure Mathieu in particular were constantly with him. A number of us including Romana, Anne-Laure, Émile Martel, Ismaïla Samba Traoré, Carles Torner, Annie Pénélope Dussault and myself were with him when he died. All of this is described in the following link. Let me simply add that he was a new friend, but I felt already a long friendship stretching into the future. Djibril was an example for all of us and an admirable writer.

*          *         *

I know he himself would have been inspired by a number of the outcomes of the Congress: the Quebec Declaration on Literary Translation and Translators for a start. Here is one more foundational document. Over the last six years we have given ourselves a range of these fundamental documents – ethical documents – which flesh out our Charter. The Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights, the PEN Declaration on Digital Freedom, the Resolution on Anti-LGBTQI Legislation, PEN’s International Principles on Author’s Moral Rights and Copyright, and the Bled Manifesto of the Writers for Peace Committee. And now the Quebec Declaration.

PEN has the force of its words and the creators of those words. The more we explain clearly what we believe in, the stronger we will be.

*          *         *

In another moving moment, Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger who has been sentenced to a thousand lashes, and their three children came to join us in Quebec City. They first took part in a ceremony at an outdoor public monument created to draw attention to three key cases – Juan Carlos Argenal, the Honduran journalist who was murdered in 2013 in his home; Amanuel Asrat, Eritrean poet, critic and Editor-in-Chief of the leading newspaper Zemen, who was arrested in his home in 2001; and Raif Badawi, still in jail in Saudi Arabia, still under sentence to receive 1,000 lashes, in effect a death sentence. Ensaf Haidar then came with her children to speak to the whole PEN Assembly.

*          *         *

During the week in Quebec City, we launched the PEN International Writers Circle with 22 founding members from around the world. We hope that another twenty will quickly join us. This is the second of four PEN Circles. The Readers Circle will follow, and then the Screen Circle.

These Circles are new ways to bring leaders of the creative community and its supporters into a close relationship with PEN. These Circles and their members are increasingly important in the building up of the independence of PEN International through the growth of unrestricted funds which allow us to face those many unexpected crises which strike the world of literature and its free expression.

*          *         *

Beyond the choosing of our new International President, Jennifer Clement, there were other important elections in Quebec City.

Markéta Hejkalová finished her second term on the Board. She was an invaluable leader in the organization of congresses. Regula Venske was elected to fill her place. Salil Tripathi was chosen to succeed Marian Botsford Fraser after her six creative and successful years as Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee. Elisabeth Nordgren was chosen to succeed Ekbal Baraka as the Chair of the Women Writers´ Committee.

Margaret Atwood, Joséphine Bacon, Russell Banks, Joseph Boyden, Jung Chang, Adrienne Clarkson, Chris Hedges, Danny Laferrière, Robert Lepage, Jean-Francois Lépine, Yann Martel, Julio Rivas and Louis-Karl Picard Sioui took part in a myriad of public events in packed halls. These were organized in partnership with the impressive Festival Québec en Toutes Lettres led by Bernard Gilbert.

And the third annual New Voices Award was presented by Yann Martel at the opening Gala to Rebecca F. John from the Wales PEN Cymru Centre.  Each year a growing number of young writers are taking part through their PEN Centres.

It was a wonderful Congress for which we owe great thanks to PEN Quebec, to our friend Émile Martel and to all those who worked with him.

*          *         *

During the Congress there were discussions and debates around Indigenous literatures, the role of journalists in war situations, our OutWrite program to support the LGBTQI community which is now faced by restrictive laws in 75 countries. There was an important discussion involving new ideas about how we can better protect writers at risk.

A range of resolutions were passed, for example, to support centres in difficult situations. They return home to Australia, the Balkans, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Mexico, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Turkey with the full authority of the Assembly behind them. In other countries writers are not yet allowed to organize PEN centres or they must do so in exile. In all these cases we are speaking out on their behalf.

These resolutions and others – for example on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean area and in Europe – are now on our website and have been sent to the relevant authorities.

*          *         *

I am deeply thankful to the hundreds of you who have received me, taken part in delegations and worked on fundraising over the las six years. These are just three of the many areas in which so many of us have worked together.

I must personally thank Haroon Siddiqui and Émile Martel, who first pushed me to run for President and have given invaluable support and advice ever since. At the same time, let me thank my two home centres, PEN Canada and PEN Quebec. And officers past and present – Hori Takeaki, Eugene Schoulgin, Eric Lax and Jarkko Tontti. The Board and Committee Chairs. Franca Tiberto, who first convinced me to write this monthly letter so that members would be in touch with what I was doing. Joanne Leedom-Ackerman for her constant and wise advice. Carles Torner and the Secretariat, devoted to the cause of PEN. Roberto Alvarez and Alain Pescador, my two invaluable, enthusiastic and tireless assistants.

But above all, I owe thanks to you, the members and supporters of PEN. My happiest moments have been, first during those long and complex sessions of our General Assembly when so much of the PEN family comes together and expresses itself in its full complexity; and second, during those many delegations and visits to centres, working with you on your home turf.

Finally, all my thanks to Adrienne Clarkson for her constant advice, patience and her long-standing commitment to the cause of PEN.

*          *        *

PEN is a remarkable phenomenon, unlike any other civil society organisation – a democracy dependent on its members and on your engagement. The result is thousands of volunteers devoted to the cause; a cause which for many of you involves personal risk.

That, more than anything else, sticks with me after six years. I managed to visit 50 of our 150 centers. Only a third! And in centre after centre, I found novelists, poets, publishers, others, whose desire was to express themselves. Yet authoritarian regimes stood in their way. Blocking the right of all citizens to be themselves. We all work together to change these situations, which is what makes our work and our cause, no matter how difficult the situation, an expression of optimism. If you add the teenagers I met in our school programs in Sierra Leone or the student graduates of our Freedom of Expression summer school in Central Asia or the participants in our New Voices competition or the young people I met at a village gathering in Myanmar, eager to speak out for the first time in public or the courageous student activists in Honduras, that optimism becomes ever clearer.

The very different situations of our members and the initiatives these differences make necessary, produces a complicated organisation. But this complexity also explains why PEN matters and why its influence continues to grow.

Thank you for allowing me to play this role over the last six years. Now I look forward to continuing my commitment as an active and supportive member.

John Ralston Saul

 

 

 

 

June 2015 Monthly Letter from John Ralston Saul, International President to the PEN membership

July 09, 2015

Dear PEN members, dear Friends,

For many people outside the world of writers, publishers, translators – whether we are writing for books or newspapers, blogs or the screen – it must seem that we lead contradictory lives. We do no more than write and talk, yet more than any other group we are killed and imprisoned.

I thought a lot about this – the power of language – a few weeks ago during the long debates at the Peace Committee meeting in Bled and the Writers in Prison Committee meeting in Amsterdam. The necessarily long debates. Literature and free expression aren’t PowerPoint presentations. Nor are they utilitarian products in search of fast measurements and markets. There are rarely concrete solutions that are guaranteed to get someone out of prison. And yet we do get people out of prison, keep them alive, help them into exile, help them rebuild their lives. We do change the lives of students through literature. We do convince governments to pass laws and to enforce them. And our members, each in their own way, do create literature.

In Bled, part of the debate was over the way in which the writer’s role in society is being changed by technology, by the politics of information and surveillance. There was also a wonderful moment when the poets of the Gorizia region – a small Slovenian minority in Italy – read their work. It was a reminder of the importance of cultural difference unrelated to size or any other form of power.

In Amsterdam, between the examination of country by country free expression issues, there were powerful discussions about how LGBTQI rights are increasingly under attack – discussions led by Pablo Simonetti of PEN Chile, Damir Arsenijevic of PEN Bosnia, Beatrice Lamwaka of PEN Uganda and Babak Salimi Zadeh from Iran.

There were also complex discussions over what people often call the post Charlie Hebdo period, which included the participation of Zineb El Rhazoui, who works with Charlie Hebdo. Once again we had to force ourselves through a debate over hate speech. I say force because there is no easy answer. And those people out there most eager for clear laws on hate speech tend to resemble those who want to use the courts to reduce free expression. In Amsterdam we talked about whether there was a right to offend and whether there could be a right not to be offended. Masha Gessen summarized the situation perfectly: even if there were a right not to be offended, that would not give anyone the right to kill the person who had offended them.

Of course there is no right not to be offended – whether religious or secular. Disagreement has never been comfortable or reassuring. Free speech requires a thick skin.

This meeting was, incidentally, Marian Botsford Fraser’s last WiPC Conference as a strong and effective Chair over the last six years.

* * *

While in Slovenia, I had a good meeting with the President of the Republic, Borut Pahor. Hori Takeaki, Andrei Kurkov, Marjan Strojan outgoing President of Slovenian PEN, Tone Peršak Chair of the Writers for Peace Committee and Edvard Kovač were with me. We talked about PEN’s European initiative (initiated by German PEN) over the refugee crisis.

Incidentally, The European Union took up our proposal to create a Europe-wide fund in order to spread the costs and therefore the refugee destinations. Unfortunately, their proposal is too vague and set at far too low a funding level.

We also presented to the Slovenian President our declaration on copyright and explained why PEN now feels that attacks on copyright have developed into attacks on free expression.

* * *

In between Bled and Amsterdam, I was in Switzerland at the Solothurn Literary Festival with Michael Guggenheimer and Adi Blum of the DeutschSchweizer PEN Zentrum to talk publicly about the state of free expression. It may always be under attack, but this is a particularly dangerous moment. We are all going to have to speak up more often and much louder to counter the politically driven atmosphere of panic which is allowing governments to grind down on free expression in the name of an improperly defined public safety.

* * *

As we keep repeating, the vast majority of writers are killed and imprisoned and flagellated by governments, soldiers, police, corporations, organized crime and by various combinations of the above. Only a small percentage are killed by religious extremists of any sort. We have to deal with all of these forces of disorder, including the religious, but we must maintain a sense of where the major offenders are.

* * *

A few days ago, I was in Paris with Carles Torner and Romana Cacchioli to meet with the new Secretary General of L’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), Michaëlle Jean, her advisor, Jacques Bilodeau, and the new Administrateur, Adama Ouane. As you know, the OIF has been supporting our efforts, in francophone Africa, in particular, for sometime. We hope to expand this cooperation. As you can imagine, Mme Jean has come into her position with many new ideas and it is clear that they run parallel to ours.

A great deal has been already been done in cooperation with La Francophonie. Most recently the OIF has supported our work to develop official PEN Centres in Mali and Mauretania. We hope that the candidature of the two centres will come forward at the Quebec City Congress.

* * *

In preparation for this, Carles and Romana have just been to Bamako and Nouakchott to meet with these groups and were deeply impressed by their commitment to PEN’s principles in countries which have serious problems of stability. Carles and Romana also spent several

days in Senegal with the members of Senegal PEN, including their new interim President, Moumar Guèye. I’m sure Carles will tell you more about all of this in his letter to the membership.

* * *

On the same trip to Paris we had a good meeting with the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. UNESCO has taken a number of positive initiatives on youth, extremism and the internet over the last six months. And we are in the last stages of a valuable project with UNESCO, working out how to develop publishing for minority languages in Kenya, Haiti, Serbia and Nigeria.

* * *

Everything is now set for the 81st PEN International Congress in Quebec City – October 13 – 16, 2015. A remarkable literary program has been put in place, including a focus on indigenous writers. Margaret Atwood, Robert Lepage, Russell Banks, Joseph Boyden, Dany Laferrière and Yann Martel. This is going to be a very important Congress for the role of translations and translators. And of course, there will be a series of elections, including one for the next President.

Have a look at the Congress website.

Quebec PEN has gone out of its way to organize a very rich and varied Congress. And it all takes place at the centre of the historic city. The great thing is that old Quebec is small. Everything will be in easy walking distance. Quebec PEN has also made sure that there are several hotel possibilities at very different prices. It is one of my favourite cities, for its history and its beauty, but also for its cultural vibrancy. I am really looking forward to seeing all of you in Quebec City. And I know that Émile Martel and the rest of Quebec PEN are looking forward to welcoming you there.

* * *

Meanwhile four more writers have been killed in Mexico – Ismael Díaz López, Gerardo Nieto Álvarez, Juan Mendoza Delgado and Filadelfo Sánchez Sarmiento. Four in two weeks. This is a continuation of the pattern established over the last decade. The same expression of corruption, impunity and violence. The same lack of action by the authorities. The same indifference of the international community. All of this is a constant reminder of the embattled state of free expression and citizens rights in this era of ethical weakness within the leadership class; people who seemed to have replaced the rights and protections of the citizenry with the mechanisms of trade, debt and a tendency towards authoritarian solutions. We will be talking about all of this in Quebec City.

All best wishes,

John Ralston Saul
International President