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WiPC releases report detailing attacks on writers, journalists for second half of 2008

(WiPC/IFEX) - The following is a 27 February 2009 WiPC press release:

International PEN Writers in Prison Committee Case List July-December 2008 Now Available

The latest edition of the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN's twice yearly case list is now available (see: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/files/dmfile/CaselistJulyDec2008.pdf ). This report gives summary details of the 623 cases of attacks on writers and journalists worldwide in the six-month period between July and December 2008.

Over the 12 months of 2008, the WiPC monitored 877 attacks against writers, journalists, poets, publishers, playwrights, lyricists and others who use the written word to spread ideas and to forge change.

Of these, twenty four were killed. In some cases it is unclear whether they were targeted for their writings, in others it is certain. In all cases the deaths make others stop to think whether they too can take the risk of speaking out. That the number of killings is less than half of that of the previous years is reason for optimism. The drop was mainly due to an improvement for the safety of journalists in Iraq, which, until last year, accounted for almost half the deaths. In 2008, this figure had dropped to just three.

Of growing concern to PEN is the situation in Sri Lanka where six journalists were murdered in 2008 and many others live under threat. Lasantha Wickrematunga, a highly respected Sri Lankan editor, was assassinated in January 2009. He had been on the WiPC's records for a number of years as a victim of numerous death threats. His death is a terrible testimony to how serious these threats can be. The WiPC recorded almost 200 death threats and attacks in 2008. As data on such attacks is difficult to gather, and often not reported, this should be seen as an underestimate.

Long term imprisonment - from a few months to many years - remains a serious problem that is central to the WiPC's concerns. In 2008, it recorded 195 such cases, 133 of which are of people serving sentences clearly related to their writings. China, Burma, Iran, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Vietnam remain, as they have for many years, the countries most likely to imprison their dissenting writers and journalists. Other countries include Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt and Cameroon. Hopes that there would be an improvement in China prior to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 were dashed. At the beginning of the year, as at the end, around 40 writers and journalists were imprisoned. While some were freed, there were new arrests, most notably that of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre Preside, Liu Xiaobo, in the final days of the year. In Burma, a 59-year sentence was served against the poet, comedian and activist Zarganar, stunning international human rights monitors. It has since been reduced to 35 years, a sentence that has not been passed against any writer held for political reasons anywhere in recent decades. He was convicted for "illegal" activities for setting up an aid programme for the victims of the devastating Cyclone Nargis.

Longstanding concerns in the Americas, specifically for the 25 writers and journalists held in Cuba, killings and death threats in Mexico, threats and trials in Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua, and censorship in Venezuela, led to the decision to launch a campaign on the Americas to run through 2009. To read more, see: http://tiny.cc/SoKLb

In many cases writers are not imprisoned but are subjected to lengthy trials, sometimes taking many years to conclude. Even if the result is not imprisonment, the judicial process is an exhausting one, both psychologically and financially. In some cases it would appear that this is the purpose of the trials - to punish a writer without the accompanying international condemnation that imprisonment would bring. Turkey is one such example where over 70 writers and journalists are presently on trial under numerous laws that curtail free speech. These trials rarely result in prison terms, and often the fines levied are relatively small, yet the prosecutions serve as a warning to those who speak out on sensitive issues and only those who are willing and able to take the risk can do so.

International PEN members worldwide work to end attacks on their writer colleagues. There are Writers in Prison Committees in 69 PEN Centres that take action, including sending letters of protest to governments, staging events to publicise and support writers under attack, writing articles in their newspapers, making contact with prisoners and their families, and generally providing a network of support and solidarity.

To learn more about the work of International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee, visit:
http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/freedom-of-expression

For further information on the Wickrematunga case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99736

For further information on the Xiaobo case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99272

For further information on the Zarganar case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/100937

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