Dear Secretary of State
The UK needs to call for robust freedom of expression protections across the globe.
On behalf of the PEN centres based in the UK; Scottish PEN, English PEN and Wales PEN Cymru, we would like to congratulate and welcome you to your new position as Foreign Secretary. As representatives for the writing communities of Scotland, England and Wales, alongside the PEN community around the world, we are writing to ask you to prioritise the protection of freedom of expression across the globe.
Around the world, it is a dangerous time to express yourself. Reporters Without Borders have reported in their 2016 edition of the World Press Freedom Index that there has been a ‘deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom’. PEN’s work across the globe has seen this decline in action, with journalists, bloggers, poets, novelists and activists under threat in countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Mexico, Syria, China and Russia.
Through violence, repression, intimidation, prosecution and regressive regulation, we are seeing voices silenced on a colossal scale. Turkey’s actions following the recent coup attempt has led to the closure of over 132 media outlets and 29 publishing houses, and at least 59 writers have been arrested, suspended or placed under investigation for their alleged links to the Gülen movement. Saudi Arabia continues to clamp down on dissent, through the sentencing and brutal treatment of writers, bloggers and activists, including Ali al-Nimr who is sentenced to death for participating in a protest when he was a juvenile, as well as Raif Badawi and Ashraf Fayadh who are sentenced to corporal punishment solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Writers across China who expose wrongdoing and corruption and criticise the state are continually vulnerable to imprisonment for ‘subverting state power’, potentially joining Nobel laureate, Liu Xiaobo and at least 47 other writers currently behind bars.
These cases are testament to the need for the UK to take the lead and fight for free expression and robust civil liberties protections. Dissent should not be criminalised. Participating in a protest, writing a blog or publishing a book of poetry are activities that demonstrate the health of society; a vibrant and vocal civil society is a key driver for sustainable and inclusive growth.
We call on you to use the full power of your office to support the protection of human rights across the globe.
We hope you appreciate the urgency of our request, the UK’s inaction will only amplify the silence around the globe as writers continue to be threatened.
Drew Campbell, President of Scottish PEN
Jean Rafferty, Chair of the Writers At Risk Committee, Scottish PEN
Maureen Freely, President of English PEN
Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN
Sally Baker, Director of Wales PEN Cymru