Wednesday, February 22, 2012

News: Monthly letter from John Ralston Saul, International President – February 2012

News: Monthly letter from John Ralston Saul, International President – February 2012

17 February 2012
Dear PEN Members, Dear friends,
By now many of you will have read about our PEN International mission to Mexico. There is a great deal on the website. Please have a look.
This mission was important for two reasons. First, the situation in Mexico is getting worse, with over eighty writers killed already. Newspapers and broadcaster offices are being bombed. In several states freedom of expression has effectively been shut down. Writers know the consequences of speaking up in many circumstances. And this cannot help but have a chilling effect on the ability of publishers to publish what they wish.
Second, we took a new approach to the mission itself. The idea is to develop a flexible model that can be adjusted and applied to future missions – Turkey and China, to take just two possibilities. We were a large delegation: fourteen , including the three Mexico PEC participants. The organizational strategy was to include the full international executive – probably a first; and all seven of the North American PEN Centres – again probably a first. We had hoped to have some Latin American centres, but that didn’t work out. In any case, the approach was both international and regional. With the chair of WiPC, as well as Japan PEN and English PEN added to the group, plus a legal expert, it was a very strong delegation. We had a legal expert – again a new initiative – because we have been working on Mexico with a leading law school (the University of Toronto). We developed a very succinct policy position, easy to distribute and communicate. (Read the paper here).
PEN International calls for an end to the war on Mexico’s
journalists, writers and bloggers.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. Since 2000, there
have been at least 67 journalists, writers and bloggers killed; 12 disappeared; countless threatened and
harassed; and frequent attacks on media outlets with explosives and firearms.
Despite its Constitutional and international human rights obligations, Mexico continues to violate
journalists’ and writers’ basic human rights. The rights violated include the right to life, right to live
free of torture, right to work, and right to freedom of expression.
Crimes against journalists are not properly investigated and authorities have failed to
successfully prosecute over 90% of cases. Despite its name, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for the
Attention to Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression does not have jurisdiction to investigate
crimes, lay charges, or tackle cases involving drug trafficking organizations. Crimes allegedly committed
by members of the armed forces fall under military jurisdiction where impunity is nearly absolute.
There is a web of laws that limits expression and exposure of corruption. Fourteen Mexican states
have laws that criminalize freedom of expression. Civil defamation laws are used to harass journalists
who uncover corruption. Regulatory frameworks impede media diversification.
1. Ensure that the Committee to Protect and Prevent Aggressions against Journalists is
transparent and accessible, has appropriate technical expertise and resources, and is able to
adopt and implement binding protection orders.
2. Ensure prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation and prosecution of all perpetrators
within federal jurisdiction, and commit appropriate resources to allow the same.
3. Reform laws and policies to ensure that journalists and diverse forms of media are able to
operate without threat of legal sanction.
4. Amend laws to ensure that abuses allegedly committed by members of the armed forces are
investigated and prosecuted by civilian authorities.
5. Place this issue on the foreign policy agenda by insisting that the above recommendations be
6. Condition future counternarcotics aid on the government taking genuine and effective action
to redress serious human rights violations against journalists.
To learn more, download a copy of the PEN Canada and the International Human Rights Program at the
University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s report, Corruption, Impunity, Silence: The War on Mexico’s
Journalists at:

We also took an approach which reflects the reality of PEN. That is, we made full use of our expertise and put forward a clear program for change. But we equally spoke and acted from the full reality of PEN. We are writers – writers of every sort and publishers and lovers of the word. We are people of the word. Our greatest strength lies in our ability to use those words and to do so publicly. We are thousands of writers around the world with an uncountable public. We can go to meetings with ministers and officials and argue our case for free expression very effectively. We do this and must continue to do it. But our weight, our force, our influence, comes from our voice and our readers and listeners and viewers. As the Delegation began its work on the ground, we published a full page ad in Mexico City – a letter to Mexican writers from writers around the world. It is on the website and we want all of you to add your names. Meanwhile, several members of the delegation have already written publicly about what they saw and heard and what they sense can be done. I am attaching them. More are coming. Please write your own articles or republish those already written; place them where you can, including on your website.
Finally, PEN Mexico, led by Jennifer Clement, organized a remarkable public event in which fifty-two writers spoke – Mexicans and the Delegation, famous novelists, leading columnists and small town journalists at risk. Each person spoke for one minute. It was beautiful, disturbing, moving. There was a large audience and every form off coverage. The message passed to the broad public and to the officials. It was a moment when our existence as a great literary organization and a freedom of expression leader produced a perfectly integrated voice
The outcome is that we have succeeded in putting the issue of writer/journalist safety on the public agenda. Now we have to help keep it there. But we also helped to push the public policy agenda in the right direction. Again, we must now be persistent, all of us, in supporting our friends in Mexico and the other organizations that work in this area.
By the time you read this I’ll be in Korea with Gil-won Lee and our Centre there. Hori Takeaki is also coming, as are Markéta Hejkalová and Laura McVeigh. We’ll be talking about the upcoming congress. After that I will go on to Addis Ababa for the first national meeting of Ethiopian PEN, and then to Djibouti with both Afar and Somali speaking PEN Centres.
I can’t help but add that we seem to be entering into an unpredictable period. You will see from the website that there is a developing situation in India which raises serious questions about the legal system and the political will; there are new difficulties in Saudi Arabia; all of this adding to the already long list of threats to free expression and, yes, to the full expression of literature.
Please do follow up on the Mexico situation.
And do translate the Girona Manifesto into your language so that we can all make use of it.
Best to all of you,
John Ralston Saul


Mexican writer Eduardo Lizalde, centre, speaks during an event where members of a PEN International delegation declare their support for a free press and freedom of expression in Mexico. - Mexican writer Eduardo Lizalde, centre, speaks during an event where members of a PEN International delegation declare their support for a free press and freedom of expression in Mexico. | REUTERS
Mexican writer Eduardo Lizalde, centre, speaks during an event where members of a PEN International delegation declare their support for a free press and freedom of expression in Mexico.

Mexican writer Eduardo Lizalde, centre, speaks during an event where members of a PEN International delegation declare their support for a free press and freedom of expression in Mexico. - Mexican writer Eduardo Lizalde, centre, speaks during an event where members of a PEN International delegation declare their support for a free press and freedom of expression in Mexico. | REUTERS
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John Ralston Saul

Where words are ‘rags to cover corpses’

From Saturday's Globe and Mail


'In Mexico, reporters are hunted like rabbits'

It's tied for first place with Pakistan as the world's deadliest country for journalists
    Mexican police arrest a man wanted for drug trafficking
    Mexican police make an arrest in the 'war on drugs' that has also claimed dozens of journalists' lives. Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters
    At the end of January I was at the Royal Courts of Justice to hear Jonathan Heawood, of English PEN, speak to the Leveson inquiry about the importance of a free press. By Friday I had moved continents, going from the unseasonably warm grey of an English winter to the unseasonably chill blue of a Mexican one. A strange dislocation but, by the time my week was done, I realised how strong is the thread joining its beginning to its end.
    Mexico City is a grand old town. Its magnificent central square, the Zócalo, built out of the destruction of an earlier civilisation, is sinking slowly into the marshes from which it had once been claimed. A similar process has now all but buried free expression: Mexico has the dubious distinction of being tied for first place with Pakistan as the world's deadliest country for journalists.
    In Britain we worry about the chilling effect of the over-regulation of the press: in Mexico they cut to the chase and shoot (or decapitate) the messenger. Since 2000, 67 Mexican journalists have been killed – a number that President Calderón's war on drugs has only helped to increase. In 90% of these cases, no one has been prosecuted, never mind convicted. Which is why I was there. I was part of a PEN International delegation that, in collaboration with Mexican PEN, aimed to draw worldwide attention to the culture of impunity that silences not only the people who speak out, but the word itself.
    The trip turned out to be an eye-opener, revealing the way in which competing drug cartels, inept or corrupt government, the police and terrified media join together in the suppression of free expression. We met politicians and prosecutors, writers and journalists, ambassadors and NGOs, our visit culminating in a public event, "PEN Protesta", where dozens of Mexican writers gave eloquent insight into their country's malaise. The tone was set by one of the first speakers who, paraphrasing Mandelstam, told us that "if you kill poets it means you don't respect poetry but if you kill journalists you don't respect society." Mexico, said another, is a country that "vomits blood"; a third described it as "a magical country full of assassinated people and no apparent assassins". It's a country where, according to one of Mexico's pre-eminent writers, Elena Poniatowska, "reporters are hunted like rabbits."
    After the event, I was left with a lasting image of the diminutive, red-clad Poniatowska. While we drank tequila from champagne glasses, she posed for photographs with a lineup of members of the Banda de Tlayacapan. The band was a mixed bunch – women in poncho-topped long dresses, old men and boys, their faces almost drowned by large brimmed hats – and their sound that of strident Mexican brass, strangely slowed. "It's a dirge," the novelist Jennifer Clement explained. "They play at funerals. Seemed right, given we are holding a wake for free expression."
    Mentions of funerals were on many lips. Journalists spoke movingly about the loss of their friends and colleagues and of a resulting powerlessness so intense that all they could do was bury their dead. Mexico City itself is relatively safe but at least once a week organisations that protect journalists are asked to hide people from other parts of the country for whom the threats have grown particularly serious. And not only are journalists kidnapped: so are their stories. Airports are turned into information black holes as stories disappear into them.
    Asked what could be done to help, the requests became eerily familiar: journalists need training in their craft, various people told us, but more than anything they need training in how to protect themselves. Despite the appointment of a special prosecutor to protect journalists, impunity continues almost completely unchallenged. Of the 55 indictments brought by the special prosecutor to the federal courts, only five cases have been allowed to proceed, and from these, not a single person has yet been convicted. It's almost as bad for community radio practitioners who act as the voice of social movements: they are continually harassed or charged with using the airwaves without a licence, and the law has been designed to prevent them from procuring the advertising revenues that might make them even half solvent.
    Clement, who is also president of Mexican PEN, had kicked off PEN Protesta by saying that "words are the rocks we throw at each other". By the end of my trip I understood what she meant. For when it comes to the practice of journalism, and to the prosecution of the murderers of journalists, Mexico is caught in a series of interlocking catch-22s. The government blames the deaths on organised crime. But, according to the London-based free expression group Article 19, up to 70% of aggressions against the media are government-inspired. Most of these can be laid at the door of local and regional government, about which the national government says it can do little. Added to this, an inept or corrupted police force joins with a similarly corrupted media to portray the murders as crimes of passion, which means they are never properly investigated.
    The big media corporations often lead the charge in denigrating murdered journalists, even accusing them of being linked to the same cartels they were trying to denounce. This obliteration of a free press is not surprising: when a cartel targets a town for take-over it first compromises the mayor with threats or money and then it takes care of the police. Having taken control, it cannot let the press talk about the extent of its corruption and so has to move in on this, the third leg of the stool.
    "There is silence in our country," we were told, "and it is the silence of death." Yet even now, courageous journalists risk speaking out. As I flew back to a freezing London, I realised how brave they are and also how much my visit reinforced my belief in the importance of a free press not just for journalists but for a whole society.
    • Gillian Slovo is the president of English PEN.
 Source : The Guardian

The sobering truth about freedom of expression in Mexico: the killings continue and impunity reigns

PEN Protesta!
 UTLaw's Renu Mandhane, far right, first in the second row, attended PEN Protesta! in Mexico City.
By Renu Mandhane, director, International Human Rights Program (IHRP)
(Feb. 1, 2012) Yesterday, I arrived home from a week in one of Latin America’s truly great capitals: Mexico City.  While there, I had a chance to visit marvelous museums, eat fantastic food and develop a love for “tequila blanco” with a “sangrita” (“little blood”) chaser.   I also had the chance to chat with diplomats, illustrious writers, and a former governor general of Canada.  However, the real reason I was in Mexico was sobering: Mexico is one of the deadliest places in the world to practice freedom of expression.  Because in the midst of Mexico’s war on drugs, journalists are being caught in the cross-fire. 
Since 2000, more than 70 journalists have been killed and 12 have disappeared, with countless more threatened and harassed.  Media outlets as well have been frequently attacked with explosives and firearms.  Despite this dire situation, impunity reigns: crimes against freedom of expression are not properly investigated and authorities have failed to successfully prosecute more than 90 percent of cases.   These findings are outlined in last year’s IHRP-PEN Canada report Corruption, Impunity Silence: The War on Mexico’s JournalistsThe report was written by two IHRP clinic students, Cara Gibbons and Beth Spratt, who travelled to Mexico City in October 2010.  And, despite a lot of hot air from the Mexican government since the report’s publication, the situation remains largely the same.  In the past nine months, four more journalists have been found dead.
Recognizing the dire situation, PEN International sent an unprecedented delegation last month to show solidarity with Mexican journalists, and cast international attention on the issue.  I was honoured to be asked to join the delegation, as the sole lawyer and an expert on the issues.   Along with Jennifer Clement of Mexico PEN, the delegation included John Ralston Saul, PEN president,  former journalist and governor-general of Canada Adrienne Clarkson,  Russell Banks (author of The Sweet Hereafter), Gillian Slovo (president, UK PEN) and Larry Siems (author of The Torture Report) amongst others.
John Ralston Saul speaks at PEN meeting with Mexican government
John Ralston Saul speaks with President of the Senate, Senator José González Morfín
The mission included two public actions to show solidarity with Mexican journalists.  On January 27th, an open letter signed by 170 of the world’s leading authors, including Margret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison and others  appeared as a full-page ad in El Universal, one of Mexico’s leading papers.   “We stand with you and all Mexican citizens who are calling out for the killing, the impunity, the intimidation to stop,” the writers declared. “You have an absolute right to life and a guaranteed right to practice your profession without fear.”  The powerful message was reported on countless Spanish-language news sources, as well as by CBS, ABC, The Washington Post, BBC, and The Guardian.
On January 29th, journalists working in some of the country’s most dangerous cities spoke of their experiences at PEN Protesta!, a remarkable event where frontline reporters stood side-by-side with the PEN delegation and many of Mexico’s most prominent writers to demand an end to the killings. In all, more than 50 writers and journalists read short statements that alternated between harrowing first-hand accounts of deadly threats and declarations of outrage and horror.  In my statement on behalf of the IHRP, I emphasized Mexico’s responsibilities under international law to protect communicators regardless of the source of threats and violence.  The protest was covered by local and international media, including CNN and the Los Angeles Times.  I was interviewed by CBS Radio for a feature that will be airing in the coming weeks.
After meeting with our delegation, the US Ambassador issued a press release wherein he announced a US$5 million initiative over four years to “provide support for Mexican efforts to strengthen the capacity to protect journalists.”  We also had the opportunity to meet with key public officials including Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City: Gustavo Salas, the special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression; Jose Gonzalez Morfin, president of the Senate; and Alejandro Poiré Romero, minister of the interior. 
Without exception, the meetings with Mexican government officials contained the same tired refrains regarding the lack of federal jurisdiction to act, and blame-shifting to the drug cartels.  In one particularly memorable exchange, the special prosecutor boasted that he filed 55 indictments related to crimes against journalists in 2011.  When I proceeded to cross-examine him on the numbers, he admitted that 50 of the indictments were thrown out by federal judges due to lack of jurisdiction, and that in the remaining five cases have not resulted in convictions.  In this moment, I realized the enormity of the problem: where complete impunity reigns, the violence will not stop.
Still, we did manage to wrest some key “wins” from policy makers. The special prosecutor assured us that his office would interpret broadly “journalist” to include all communicators including bloggers and community radio announcers.  This was a point of some confusion amongst NGOs, and the special prosecutor reiterated this position publicly in a press release issued after our meeting.
The interior minister, arguably the second most powerful man in Mexico after the president and the “face” of the war on drugs, provided us with further details regarding the Committee to Protect Journalists which was set up in 2010.  In particular, he provided us with a copy of the procedural guide for accessing the protection mechanism, which thus far NGOs had been unable to access.  The minister also confirmed that there would be significant resources (approximately US$2 million) available for the protection of journalists during this calendar year. 
Despite these modest wins, there were no assurances received in relation to our main demand: that the government ensure crimes against freedom of expression are investigated, prosecuted, and punished entirely by federal authorities.  “Federalization” is essential to ending impunity since state and local authorities are often paid-off by drug cartels such that no prosecutions take place.  Though the president of the Senate was repeatedly pressed by the delegation to commit to passing 2009 legislation that would federalize crimes against freedom of expression, he made no promises.  It will remain to be seen whether the Calderon government passes this law prior to the federal election this summer.
In the end, while pressure from the international community is much-needed, change will likely only come when the Mexican people themselves demand it.  For our part, the IHRP looks forward to continuing to work with PEN International and Mexican NGOs to ensure that this issue remains on the agenda within Mexico and with its major trading partners: Canada, the United States, and the European Union.

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