Bristol Student PEN intends to focus our efforts on one particular writer in order to have a greater impact. Some of the writers at risk which English PEN and PEN International are currently campaigning for are:
- Can Dündar; writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker who is being trialled in Turkey for criminal defamation and could face up to four and a half years in prison.
The criminal investigation comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan submitted an official complaint about an interview conducted by Dündar with one of the prosecutors who led a December 2013 investigation into alleged corruption amongst Erdoğan’s inner circle.
His ongoing trial relates to a series of articles that Dündar wrote while Erdoğan was still prime minister in July 2014, in which he questioned the handling of the December 2013 corruption investigation. Dündar could face over nine years in prison if found guilty in both cases.
The first of these articles, ‘Erdoğan’s soft underbelly’, was published on 1 July 2014, and discussed the possible ramifications of Erdoğan’s presidency. The second article, ‘It is our right to read the police reports’, was published on 18 July 2014, and criticised the controversial handling of a major police investigation into alleged government corruption.
President Erdoğan has previously tried to have Dündar tried for criminal defamation, but a May 2014 complaint was rejected before even going to trial.
PEN International opposes the criminalisation of defamation in all cases and once again calls on the Turkish authorities to drop all investigations, charges and draconian prison sentences being sought against Dündar for his legitimate expression as a journalist and political commentator.
- Mazen Darwish; PEN Pinter Prize winner, journalist and human rights defender, arrested in Syria in 2012 under the Anti-Terrorist Act.
Mazen Darwish is the founding President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). Founded in 2004, the SCM works to promote freedom of opinion and expression and, since the uprising began in 2011, has documented the human rights abuses taking place in Syria. Darwish was arrested on 16 February 2012, alongside bloggers and SCM members Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir, after their offices were raided by Air Force Intelligence officers. In March 2014 the General Prosecutor of the Anti-Terrorism Court of Damascus presented charges against them of ‘publicising terrorist acts’ under Article 8 of the 2012 Anti-Terrorism Law. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison.
In spite of repeated calls by the international community for his immediate release, including from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) which declared his detention to be arbitrary in November 2013, three years on from their arrest Darwish and his colleagues remain detained pending trial.
Their lawyers have highlighted several procedural irregularities, including the absence of an arrest warrant. Furthermore, the trial has failed to comply with international standards and has been subject to excessive delays, most recently in January 2015. A new trial date has not yet been set.
- Raif Badawi; activist and blogger convicted in Saudi Arabia in May 2014 for insulting Islam and founding a liberal website. He has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes.
On the 9th January 2015 Badawi was flogged 50 times and this was due to continue every Friday until he had received 1000. The floggings for the 16th and 23rd were postponed because he had not sufficiently recovered from the previous punishment.Further postponements have been made with no reasons given.
Badawi remains in prison without adequate medical attention and at risk of receiving the rest of his sentenced lashes.
On the 6th March we held a vigil on Tyndall Park Road in support of Raif and protest of his prosecution. We started a photo petition for his freedom and added signatures to Amnesty’s written petition for his release. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, has been active in campaigning against his arrest and contacted us to thank us for our support.
POTENTIAL BRISTOL STUDENT PEN CAMPAIGNS
We’d love to hear any of your suggestions for any campaigns relating to free speech which our society could focus on. A few ideas:
- Working with Teach First and Schools Plus to increase literacy levels and promote reading across Bristol.
- Encouraging young people to make the most of and exercise their right to vote by following the election campaigns and manifestoes and registering.