Along with other human rights organisations, PEN is responding to this issue of impunity with a yearlong international campaign. These combined actions have had some successes in raising awareness of the problem, but to achieve any progress in reducing killings and impunity, significant pressure needs to be brought by global civil society on states and international organisations.
Measures that can be taken by states to combat impunity include increasing the independence of investigation procedures for these cases. For example, recent Mexican legislation established independent investigation units and federalised investigations into killings of writers and journalists. However, it is essential that investigation units are empowered to carry out this mandate effectively and rigorously and adequate resources and infrastructure complement any changes in legislation. States and international bodies can also initiate and support increased protection mechanisms for writers and journalists. These measures include emergency response provision for writers under threat or shelter programmes for writers and journalists at risk, such as the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), with which PEN International works, or Frontline Defenders programme.
Often the principal underlying causes for impunity in the killings of writers and journalists are links between state actors and criminal networks or state-sanctioned criminal activity. Therefore it is essential to ensure robust anti-corruption campaigns, wide-reaching investigation and prosecution in state links to criminality.
While states may initiate measure in these areas, because state actors are so often complicit in killings and impunity, civil society has an essential role to play in highlighting cases of impunity and corruption, and to ensure national and international pressure is brought to bear on offending governments.
b. Freedom of expression in the digital sphere
Freedom of expression in the digital sphere is also a significant and growing issue. Digital media can offer tools for advancing and fulfilling the fundamental right of freedom of expression, and has vastly expanded the capability of individuals, groups and whole societies to express themselves both privately and publicly, to associate freely, and to exchange literature, ideas and information.
While digital media has expanded the ability of individuals to share in such a way, it has also increased the number of individuals who are vulnerable to persecution for their writing. Poets, playwrights, essayists, novelists, writers, bloggers and journalists are suffering violations of their right to freedom of expression for using digital media. Citizens in many countries have faced severe restrictions in their access to and use of digital media. Governments have exploited digital technologies to suppress freedom of expression and to subject individuals to surveillance,.
PEN monitors restrictions on freedom of expression in the digital sphere, and in 2012 documented arrests of writers for Twitter publication and online writing in Saudi Arabia, censorship of internet services in China, and the use of monitoring technology in Syria. In 2012, 27% of all new cases monitored by PEN International involved the use of digital media.
Governments have exploited digital technologies to suppress freedom of expression and to subject individuals to surveillance, and the private sector has facilitated government censorship and surveillance.
In September 2012, PEN International adopted a Declaration on Digital Freedom as a response to these concerns and is using the Declaration as a campaign tool to raise awareness internationally. The Declaration has been distributed to writers and activists worldwide.
The Declaration calls on states to actively promote freedom of expression on digital media through enacting and enforcing enabling legislation and practices. It calls on states not “to censor, restrict or control the content of digital media” and not to restrict access to digital or social media, even in times of unrest or crisis. The Declaration and PEN International also call on states to promote access to digital media for all. States can therefore promote and defend freedom of expression in digital media by rejecting restrictive legislation and actively promoting access to digital media for all. PEN International calls on states to ensure that all legislation regarding the use of digital media complies with international due process laws and standards.
The enabling environment for civil society
A growing trend in recent years, as documented elsewhere in the contributions to this report, has been the enacting of legislation and regulations that prevent civil society from functioning effectively in a number of countries. Legislation and other forms of attack on civil society have restricted PEN’s ability to operate as a global network, and some PEN Centres’ ability to play an active role in civil society in their country. Notable examples of highly restrictive legislation and practice can be found in Bahrain, Ethiopia, Nepal, Russia and more recently in Azerbaijan; however, there are common trends emerging in a wider range of countries globally. What unifies these approaches is the use of administrative practices and registration legislation as a means to restrict civil society activity. A highly publicised example is Ethiopia, where the government’s Proclamation to Provide for the Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies restricts CSOs that receive more than 10% of their financing from foreign sources from engaging in human rights and advocacy activities.
In March 2012, a PEN International delegation visited Russia and met human rights defenders, CSOs, civil society activists, media, academics, writers and journalists. The previous December, anti-government demonstrations had initiated the rise of a protest movement, which was repeatedly described to the delegation as a ‘re-birth of Russian civil society.’ People, including long-time civil society activists, spoke of a generational shift, of a generation who had not previously engaged in politics or civil society leading this movement, and of a renewed civil society.
Since this delegation’s visit, and in particular since the inauguration of President Putin for a third term in May 2012, the government has enacted legislation that specifically targets this nascent and vulnerable civil society movement. Severe fines and sentences have been introduced for those participating in unauthorised public protests and legislation has been enacted requiring NGOs and CSOs receiving foreign funding to register as ‘foreign agents’. This was a key civil society issue in 2012 and will be so in the coming years. In this case, the growth of civil society has been specifically targeted in an attempt to suppress its activity.