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PEN Canada protests censorship of Zahra Kazemi photo exhibition

(PEN Canada/IFEX) - The following is a 9 June 2005 PEN Canada press release:

PEN Canada Protests Censorship of Zahra Kazemi Photo Exhibition in Montreal

Toronto, June 9, 2005 - PEN Canada calls on the council of Montreal suburb Côte-St-Luc to reverse its short-sighted attempt to restrict freedom of expression and allow the complete exhibit of photos by Canadian Zahra Kazemi to be displayed in the community's library.

Five of 23 photographs by the murdered photojournalist were removed from a posthumous exhibition at the Côte-St-Luc municipal library after complaints were lodged that they were pro-Palestinian. In response, Kazemi's son, Stéphan Hachemi, said that the collection of photographs, which has appeared in Paris and other cities, should be displayed in its entirety or not at all.

"Freedom of expression is at the core of our democracy. When community leaders take the easy way out and respond to complaints by censoring material that some may find controversial, our whole society loses," said PEN Canada National Affairs Chair Christopher Waddell.

"Instead of removing pictures someone didn't like, community leaders need to explain how our society is strengthened by allowing debate, discussion and the expression of diverse points of view."

Mayor Robert Libman claimed that some of the exhibit photos from Afghanistan, Iran and the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza were "too politically charged for our community." But banning them sets a dangerous precedent, Waddell emphasized. It only encourages those around the world who wish to restrict freedom of expression.

PEN Canada notes that, by their very nature, libraries must be centres for openness, discussion, debate and controversy. They are the very last places anyone should find censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression.

PEN Canada is also concerned that the decision in Côte-St-Luc has international implications. Censoring Kazemi's work in Canada and implying it is unsuitable for Canadian audiences lends support to those in Iran who killed her in the first place while in police custody after she was arrested while taking pictures of a demonstration outside an Iranian prison.

PEN Canada continues to condemn the Iranian government for its stonewalling and failure to bring to justice those responsible for killing Kazemi, simply for the peaceful practice of her right to freedom of expression, in 2003.

About PEN Canada:
PEN Canada is a centre of International PEN that campaigns on behalf of writers around the world persecuted for the expression of their thoughts. In Canada, it supports the right to free expression as enshrined in Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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