World Press Freedom Day: stand in solidarity with silenced journalists

‘I want you to know that your letters, which have rendered iron curtains meaningless and ineffective, have filled my two-steps’-long cell with resistance, resolve and hope. At this time when I am still able to have access to this pencil and paper, I am amateurishly sharing my feelings of gratitude and humbleness, and I would be most delighted if you accept it’ – Nedim Türfent.

This World Press Freedom Day, join PEN members worldwide and send messages of solidarity to journalists and writers imprisoned for their work

Press freedom is in decline around the world, as oppressive regimes from Turkey to Eritrea to Bahrain clamp down on independent media. The number of journalists imprisoned globally is the highest it has been for decades.

This muzzling of journalists has come from all quarters and has taken many forms. Putin’s Russia is about to pass a bill which will give the state powers to block websites instantly and to deny access to sites deemed a ‘security threat’. Across Europe journalists are being killed and imprisoned at unprecedented rates. In February 2018, investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, were shot dead in their home in Slovakia. Last month, an ex-soldier confessed to the double murder and prosecutors have charged a Slovak businessman, Marian Kocner, with ordering the murder of Kuciak. In April 2019, Lyra McKee, a 29-year old journalist and member of our advisory group for Libel Reform in Northern Ireland, was shot dead during riots in Derry.

This week, Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected the final appeal of Reuters journalists Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, who have spent more than 16 months in detention since they were arrested in 2017 while working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys. This rejection comes a week after the duo were awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Journalism. In Nicaragua, journalists have been arrested, attacked, and robbed in the wake of the civil unrest that has gripped the country.

PEN’s global membership has been mobilising to meet these challenges and safeguard freedom of expression. At the heart of PEN’s work are writers standing alongside writers. Writers giving a voice to their silenced colleagues and advocating for those behind bars. Writers communicating across languages and borders. In short, solidarity. There is an undeniable resilience in paper and pen, in the written word.

Sahar Halaimzai, PEN International’s Campaigns and Communications Manager, said

What we hear time and time again from imprisoned writers is the value in receiving letters of solidarity from PEN members. We campaign on behalf of writers who are often held in the harshest conditions: in some cases with no access to legal representation or family and friends. In some cases the imprisoned have no access to medication or water. The letters of solidarity let them and their jailers know that they are not forgotten, that outside their prison walls there is a global community calling loudly for their freedom.’

Below are some of the testimonies from writers who have received letters from PEN supporters.

Nedim Türfent, who provided the message at the top of this article, is a Kurdish editor and poet serving an eight-year prison sentence. He wrote to PEN following a recent solidarity campaign to describe how letters lightened the burden of his conditions:

Knowing that you are right there, akin to keeping company to birds, is beyond any dream inside this cell which at times feels stifling.

The Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, who spends most of his life under police protection, stressed the importance of solidarity:

All the bad things that could happen to you can only take place in the darkness. Solidarity is light; it is survival. It is not a gesture to be taken for granted, nor a formal gesture. Shining a light on those who are threatened because of their writing means performing an act of life: because this is often saving their lives.

Zehra Doğan, a Kurdish-Turkish painter and editor, was freed earlier this year after serving almost three years in prison. She is now writer in residence with English PEN. She describes how solidarity gave her strength:

‘I couldn’t believe that so many people from all over the world were writing to me. There were many (PEN members) from Belgium, the USA, people from the UK sent many, people from India and the Philippines… I’ve received letters from Belgium almost every other day. I truly felt my voice was heard far beyond the parameters of my jail sentence and this global solidarity gave me strength to endure and almost transcend my conditions. We read the letters together, often excitedly in a crowded jail cell and before it was banned, they sent me all sorts of pictures, scents and card posts. I wrote back to almost all of them, and still keep the ones the prison hasn’t taken from me. I’m very grateful for PEN’s members for their support.’

This World Press Freedom Day, join PEN members worldwide and send messages of solidarity to journalists and writers imprisoned for their work. Please share your messages on social media using #PENgreetings. You can write to:

Dawit Isaak | imprisoned in Eritrea

Dawit Isaak, an award-winning Swedish-Eritrean journalist and founder of Setit, Eritrea’s first independent newspaper, has been held incommunicado in Eritrea for over 17 years. His case is emblematic of the dire situation facing independent journalists in the country, many of whom have been subjected to systematic arbitrary arrests, threats, harassment and enforced disappearances over the years. Isaak was one of several journalists arrested during the government’s September 2001 crackdown on independent voices in the press and politics. Very little is known about his current circumstances. Although Eritrea’s Foreign Minister claimed in a 2016 interview that all of the journalists and politicians arrested in 2001 were still alive – including Isaak – no proof of life has yet been provided. Similarly, there is little information available concerning the charges against these prisoners; the Foreign Minister has said that those arrested would be tried ‘when the government decides.’

Messages of support may be sent via FreeDawit email:

Nedim Türfent | imprisoned in Turkey

Nedim Türfent was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison on 15 December 2017 on trumped-up terrorism charges following an unfair trial, during which scores of witnesses said they had been tortured into testifying against him. Prior to his arrest, Nedim Türfent was covering Turkish military operations in southeast Turkey. He spent almost two years in solidarity confinement in harrowing detention conditions. His sentence was upheld on 19 June 2018 and his lawyers have lodged an appeal before the Constitutional Court. Determined to keep writing, Nedim Türfent started composing poetry while detained. PEN International believes that Nedim Türfent is being imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Please send messages of solidarity in English, German, Turkish or Kurdish, to:

Nedim Türfent
Van Yüksek Güvenlikli
Kapalı Ceza İnfaz Kurumu
Koğuş A53

Calls to action available here:

Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace | imprisoned in Bahrain

Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, a blogger and human rights activist, is serving a life sentence solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. PEN has been calling for his immediate and unconditional release as we consider his detention to be in violation of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a state party. Al-Singace, who is disabled and relies on a wheelchair for his mobility, requires regular specialist medical treatment for health problems, some of which are a result of torture and ill-treatment, during his time in prison.

Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace
Jau Prison
Block 960
Building 2365
Hawar Road, Jau

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