Wednesday, October 6, 2010

76th annual Congress of PEN International : a REPORT

The Assembly of Delegates of International PEN meeting at its 76th Congress in Tokyo, Japan, 25 September - 1 October, 2010,

Resolution on the People's Republic of China

Welcomes the releases of ZHANG Jianhong, WANG Rongqing, LI Zhi, WEI Zhenling, and Fan Yanqiong either on medical parole or due to the reduction of their sentences, since the last Congress of International PEN in October 2009.

Considering the continuous suppression of the right to freedom of expression throughout China, from its capital city of Beijing to the inland province of Sichuan and Henan, to the costal province of Guangdong and Fujian, to the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao, the Autonomous Regions of Tibet, Xinjiang Uyghur, and Inner Mongolia.

Alarmed by the relentless harassment of and attacks against Chinese intellectuals, particularly the arbitrary arrests of Internet writers and journalists, over 40 of whom are currently imprisoned, making China one of the largest jailers of writers and journalists in the world.

Disturbed by the continuous use of administrative detention, including the infamous "Re-education Through Labour" (RTL) system, to jail dissident writers for up to 3 years without the due process guaranteed under its own laws. For instance, LUO Yongquan, a freelance writer and poet in Guangdong Province, was sentenced to two years RTL for two poems which authorities alleged attacked the Communist party and government and which were broadcast overseas.

Further disturbed by the increasing misuse of China's Criminal Law to arbitrarily charge dissident writers, outspoken journalists and independent publishers with criminal offences to suppress freedom of expression and the press, in particular "endangering the social/national security", "(inciting) subversion of state power", "illegally holding/leaking state secrets" and "illegal business practices", and charging with criminal defamation those who criticise government institutions and accuse officials of corruption and injustice, leading to sentences of up to 3-years' imprisonment.

Worried about the growing censorship of the Internet throughout the country, in which thousands of websites are blocked, popular Chinese Internet forums discussing sensitive issues closed, and online writers and journalists harassed and imprisoned for their publication of critical reports and commentaries on overseas websites, including the sentencing of HUANG Qi (3 years), and TAN Zuoren (5 years), Hailaite Niyazi (aka Hairat or Gheyret Niyazi (15 years) as well as the prosecutions and trials of HUANG Xiaomin, LIU Yonggen, and ZUO Xiaohuan.

Shocked by the increasing persecution of Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) members, including the ongoing imprisonment of SHI Tao (10 years), YANG Tongyan (12 years) and DU Daobin (3 years), and especially and most recently Dr. LIU Xiaobo, former and Honorary President who was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment on Christmas Day, 2009; the interrogation, harassment, threats, attacks, brief detentions, meeting and travel restrictions, passport rejections, and the work and life interruptions of more than 50 members, including ZHAO Shiying, Board Member and Secretary-general who was detained for two weeks in January 2010 and who is still unable to travel.

International PEN therefore urges the government of the People's Republic of China to:

• Stop the harassment and persecution of ICPC members, and lift all restrictions on their freedom to exit and enter mainland China, particularly to attend International PEN conferences and to return home;
• Cease its efforts to censor cyberspace and to immediately release all Internet writers jailed for peacefully expressing their opinions;
• Release all prisoners in the autonomous regions of Tibet, Xinjiang Uyghur and Inner Mongolia who have been detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression, including Tibetan writers and journalists Dawa Gyaltsen, Dolma Kyab, Kunchok Tsephel, Paljor Norbu, Tashi Rabten, and Kunga Tseyang, Uighur writers Abdulghani Memetemin, Nurmuhemmet Yasin, Mehbube Ablesh and Hailait Niyazi (aka Hairat or Gheyret Niyazi), and Mongolian writer Hada;
• Release all imprisoned writers and journalists in China, including LIU Xiaobo, SHI Tao, YANG Tongyan, DU Daobing, HUANG Jinqiu, ZHENG Yichun, KONG Youping, XU Zerong, XU Wei, JIN Haitao, LU Jianhua, WANG Xiaoning, YANG Maodong, LU Gengsong, HU Jia, QI Chonghai, CHEN Daojun, YUAN Xianchen, ZHANG Qi, HUANG Qi, and TAN Zuoren.
• Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was signed by the People's Republic of China in October 1998;
• Engage in a complete and meaningful reform of the Chinese legal system in accordance with international standards and its own Constitution to guarantee fair trials, the full rights of defence and appeal, the legal practices of attorneys, and a prison system that ensures the health and safety of inmates; particularly to cease the practice of using the charge of "subversion" against writers and of "holding/leaking state secrets" against journalists; and to abandon the infamous RTL system.



More than 250 writers from several dozen countries, gathered in Tokyo for the 76th annual Congress of PEN International, expressed profound outrage at the sentencing yesterday of 35-year-old Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan to 19.5 years in prison on charges that include ‘propagating against the regime', ‘insulting religion', spreading ‘anti-revolutionary' propaganda and obscenity.

‘This outrageous sentence of a writer for the expression and transmission of his ideas is grossly unjust,' said John Ralston Saul, President of PEN International. ‘This is the new totalitarianism. Instead of banning books, they are attempting to control the Internet; what became a mechanism for freedom in its early days is now under attack around the world.'

News of the sentence came as delegates from 86 PEN Centres around the world concluded their weeklong meeting, during which they considered both the relentless, escalating threats to freedom of expression in many forms and the essential role that the literatures and languages of the world play in sustaining our common humanity.

At the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo, PEN International announced the delivery of a strongly worded statement to the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the Japanese capital. The statement expresses ‘alarm', ‘concern' and ‘shock' over China's status as one of the world's most prolific jailers of writers and journalists, and decries the ‘arbitrary' arrests they face; the use of ‘administrative detention, including the infamous "Re-education Through Labour" system to jail dissident writers for up to 3 years without due process'; escalating censorship; and the increasing persecution of Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) members Shi Tao and, most recently, Liu Xiaobo.

Liu's case in particular was much discussed during the Congress. Currently serving a sentence of 11 years, he has come to symbolise China's systemic repression of its people's deep yearning for democratic freedoms to match the country's economic liberalism. He is one of more than 40 writers serving sentences in China (including the Tibet, Xinjiang-Uighur and Inner Mongolia autonomous regions).

Mexico was also a topic of much concern. A state of undeclared war has festered there since 2006, in which more than 20,000 people - many of them journalists - have died as a result of the unchecked powers of drug cartels. ‘In Mexico, words such as "kidnapping", "torture" and "summary execution" have become commonplace, heard daily,' said Saul, ‘and all these crimes go unpunished.'

In Iran, more than 40 writers, journalists and bloggers in addition to Derakhshan have been detained or face charges. ‘The extreme sentence handed to Derakhshan, in part for insults to Islam, is symptomatic of another great concern to PEN International,' said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN's Writers in Prison Committee. ‘The right to criticise religion is a right equal to the right to practise one's religion. When governments attempt to limit the rights of citizens, they are not seeking to protect faith or belief. They are seeking increased power over the citizenry.'

PEN International holds that legal restrictions on defamation would not only do little to foster mutual understanding and respect, but can also be used to stifle creative freedom as well as suppress minority views and religions.

Congress delegates also elected a new International Secretary, Takeaki Hori of Japan. Hori has sat on PEN International's Board since 2004, and is the first person from Asia to take up this critical post within in the NGO.

‘This is a historic moment,' said Saul. ‘and a statement of how international PEN International is. The vast majority of Centres are outside the West, which is a complete reversal from when the organisation was founded, and in its early years ... We're probably the oldest real NGO, but we're constantly re-inventing ourselves.'

Hori concurred. ‘We have reached a stage where every Centre in every region now has a continuous connection to the mission of PEN International, not just in terms of new technology, but philosophically. PEN International is in the hands of our entire family. This is a symbolic transition to a truly globalised organisation.'

Appropriately, the Congress was held in Tokyo on the 75th anniversary of the Japan PEN Centre's founding. Hori, a member of Japan PEN for over 25 years, claims a remarkably diverse background. Known as a writer on environmental issues, he is also a professor of social anthropology, journalist, founder of an offshore fishery and former vice president of the US-Japan Foundation, among many other roles.

In other developments within PEN International, members Philo Ikonya of Kenya, Lee Gil-won of South Korea and Tarik Günersel of Turkey were newly elected to the Board, and Haroon Siddiqui of Canada was re-elected for another three-year term.

PEN International celebrates literature and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, its global community of writers now spans more than 100 countries. PEN programmes, campaigns, events and publications connect writers and readers wherever they are in the world.

No comments: