As the above suggests, harassment and attacks on writers that aim to silence them, to intimidate others, and marginalise their views, remain a global phenomenon. Highlighting this issue and campaigning on behalf of individual writers will always be a key over-arching concern for PEN International.
Digital media has vastly expanded the capability of individuals, groups and whole societies to express themselves both privately and publicly, to associate freely, to exchange literature, ideas and information.
Each 15 November for the last 32 years, PEN International has marked the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. On this day, PEN Centres around the globe raise public awareness of the unjust imprisonment and persecution of writers wherever they may live. In 2012, PEN highlighted the cases of five imprisoned and at-risk writers, from Ethiopia, Iran, Mexico, the Philippines and Turkey, which are emblematic of the kinds of persecution faced by many writers worldwide in exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Many of these writers are also journalists and activists. For example, Shiva Nazar Ahari, an award-winning Iranian human rights activist and a founding member of the Committee of Human Rights reporters, is serving a four-year prison sentence for her alleged participation in political gatherings following the disputed presidential election in 2009. Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison on dubious terrorism-related charges, clearly levied as punishment for his reporting on government human rights abuses. Muharrem Erbey, a Turkish human rights lawyer, writer and Vice-President of the Human Rights Association (IHD), has been imprisoned under the Anti-Terror Law since December 2009 for “membership of an illegal organisation”, charges that appear to be linked to his work as a human rights defender. Such writers highlight, at a high personal cost, the type of state repression that can cripple civil society.
In addition, PEN identified impunity and freedom of expression in the digital sphere as global freedom of expression issues in 2012.
Impunity in the killings of writers and journalists has become a major issue in recent years, particularly in Latin America. In 2012, more reporters were murdered in Latin America than in any other region worldwide. According to PEN International’s 2012 case list, Mexico was one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer or journalist, with Honduras and Brazil coming close behind. The rate at which writers, bloggers and journalists are being murdered in the region is similar to that of a war zone. The killers are seeking to silence those who investigate or condemn organised crime and political corruption, and they are succeeding: PEN International’s sources indicate that self-censorship is a growing trend in all three countries.
PEN International has highlighted this issue internationally, and has campaigned on behalf of writers who have been threatened and killed in Latin America. Since 2006, 46 murders of writers and journalists in Mexico have been documented and monitored by PEN. PEN International’s global network commemorated these colleagues through actions such as the Day of the Dead campaign and the Write Against Impunity campaign.
PEN has additionally identified impunity for murders and attacks on writers as a global issue, and has campaigned on this issue internationally, highlighting impunity in countries including Azerbaijan, Russia, Sri Lanka and Turkey. A notable example is PEN’s appeals to the Sri Lankan authorities, which ensured that individuals such as Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda, who disappeared in Sri Lanka in January 2010, were not forgotten. PEN was among 16 CSOs that made a joint submission on Azerbaijan at the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review that focused on impunity for those who kill and threaten journalists, politically motivated arrests, torture and ill-treatment, laws that breach free expression guarantees, including those that specifically target online media, and state control of the media.