Arash Ganji – 11 years prison in Iran for translating a book

The Iranian regime has demonstrated yet again that they are the sworn enemy of freedom. On Saturday 16 October writer Arash Ganji was summonsed to serve his 11 year prison term in the notorious Evin Prison, after losing his appeal. The judge who issued the summons is Moghiseh, known as Naserian, whose name has been mentioned repeatedly in the trial currently taking place in The Stockholm District Court in Sweden in connection to the mass murder of thousands of Iranian political prisoners in 1988.

Arash Ganji is a prominent writer, translator, and on the board of The Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA), which advocates for freedom of expression and an end to censorship. In December 2019 Ganji was arrested and detained at Evin Prison for 29 days for his translation of a book about a Kurdish-led uprising in northern Syria, a year later he was sentenced to 11 years in prison on a number of national security charges.

In June 2021 he recorded this video for PEN Sydney, in which he called for freedom of expression across the Middle East: “I know very well that real freedom of expression cannot be guaranteed simply by being mentioned on a piece of paper and we should not see that as an ultimate solution. But the lack of those guarantees gives governments a free hand to attack that freedom violently. Middle Eastern governments have not and would not easily accept freedom of expression, so we need to fight and struggle to bring freedom of expression into the constitutions of these countries; and whether we achieve it or not, it will be a huge democratic fight. This struggle will lay the ground for alliances and international solidarity with other democratic movements like the working class, women, the environment, migrants and others. And this will be a way for us to learn how to practise struggle and internationalism.”

Arash joins three other Iranian writers Reza Khandan Mahabadi, Baktash Abtin and Keyvan Bazhan who are currently being held in Evin prison for their critical writing.  All three are members of the IWA. Recently PEN America honoured the trio with the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.  In the 1980s and 1990s the Iranian regime assassinated, killed and attempted to kill several members of the IWA.

The Iranian regime is trying in vain to put handcuff the thoughts and creativity of Arash Ganji. But history has shown that thoughts become action, voices become screams and words flourish beyond the walls of prisons. The hands of international solidarity will reach behind the walls of Evin prison to support and warm the hearts of all four IWA members, to terminate tyranny and to deliver freedom for all of them.

PEN Sydney, PEN Melbourne and PEN Perth call for the immediate release of IWA members and all political prisoners in Iran. We remind the Iranian authorities of their obligation under the UN Human Rights Charter to respect all freedoms and to immediately abolish all executions and all forms of torture and trauma.

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Prominent Iranian Writers Sent to Prison for Peaceful Dissent

Lawyer: “These sentences are without legal and judicial merit. They are only political rulings”

Prominent members of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) have begun serving prison sentences for the peaceful expression dissent and their opposition to censorship.

“On September 26, 2020, IWA board members Reza Khandan Mahabadi and Baktash Abtin, as well as former board member Keyvan Bajan, were transferred to Evin Prison [to begin serving their] sentences… The three IWA members must be freed unconditionally,” said a statement from the writers’ association on September 27.

It added: “The IWA believes the enforcement of the sentences is a criminal act and a violation of the principles of human rights…”

The three IWA members were sentenced in May 2019 to six years prison each on charges of “propaganda against the state” (one year) and “assembly and collusion against national security” (five years), for their peaceful actions including publishing documents about the IWA’s history and statements against censorship, and organizing memorial ceremonies for IWA members who’d been killed by state agents in the 1990s.

In December 2019, Branch 36 of the Appeals Court upheld the sentences against Abtin and Mahabadi and reduced Bajan’s sentence to three years and six months. Based on Article 134 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, which states that in cases where there are multiple charges, only the sentence for the most severe charge will be served, Abtin and Mahabadi would have to serve five years in prison.

Lawyer: “The appeal courts in Iran have turned into confirmation courts”

“Unfortunately the appeal courts in Iran have turned into confirmation courts,” human rights attorney Nasser Zarafshan told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) in an interview on October 6, 2020.

“The appeal courts’ authority has been watered down so much that their rulings are just a formality to confirm sentences,” he added.

Zarafshan said the sentences against the three IWA members lacked any legal foundation.

“These sentences are without legal and judicial merit. They are only political rulings,” he said.

The attorney, who himself served five years in prison for representing the families of dissidents murdered in the 1990s, said the persecution of the literary community shows the Iranian authorities’ level of intolerance toward opposing voices.

He noted that the IWA is a professional organization that has never demanded a share of power and therefore should not be treated as a political rival.

“Writers and thinkers have always written against censorship and advocated freedom of expression and those who hold power have always imposed censorship and confronted writers but at the present time the magnitude is unprecedented.”

Zarafshan continued: “The pressure on intellectuals and writers has increased so much that some have been questioned for being silent on certain issues.”

https://iranhumanrights.org/2020/10/prominent-iranian-writers-sent-to-prison-for-peaceful-dissent/

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Three members of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA) who are facing immediate imprisonment in Iran talk with PEN Sydney president, Mark Isaacs

Mr Mark Isaacs‪: My name is Mark Isaacs, I’m a writer from Australia. I am the president of PEN Sydney, an associate of PEN International. I’ve been writing about conflict and displacement for close to a decade. My first book published was a whistleblower account of what happened in the Australian-run detention centre, or prison, for refugees on Nauru, which included Iranian refugees and since then I’ve traveled to Iran, Afghanistan and written a book on the peace movement in Afghanistan.

Mr Reza Khandan Mahabadi: I also send my greetings to you Mark and I do appreciate your attendance in this conversation. I am Reza Khandan. I’m a member of the Secretariats Board of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA). I am a writer, literature critic and I have had some research on popular culture. I have been a member of IWA for about 22 years, which is an independent organisation (I will explain its activities later). The IWA defends freedom of expression, writers’ rights and is against censorship.

Mr Baktash Abtin: I am happy too to participate in this meeting. I am Baktash Abtin. I’m a member of the Secretariats Board of IWA. I am a poet and filmmaker and have been a board member of IWA three times. I will talk about IWA’s activities later.

Mark Isaacs‪: Okay, “Salam-alaikom” to you both “khaily mokhlesim dadash” and it is a pleasure to be speaking to both of you, so thank you for giving me the opportunity. (Reza and Baktash were surprised by Mark’s Persian and laughed)

Reza Khandan Mahabadi: Since our legal case related to our activities in IWA, first I will provide an introduction about IWA. In this way, when we talk about our accusations, charges and sentences you will have a clear idea what we are talking about.

The IWA was established by some prominent writers against the censorship of the regime in 1968. The Shah’s regime introduced a law by which all the books must be over checked and approved before publishing. At the same time, the regime introduced some other measures in the print media arena and culture in general to impose more censorship.

In opposition to this, a number of progressive and well-known writers decided to publish a statement and this statement became the first step for establishing the IWA. The writers applied to register their organisation, but the Shah’s regime did not agree and about two years later some of their members were arrested. Finally, the regime put an end to the IWA’s activities after two years. In 1977, with the revolution in Iran, several IWA members became active and rejuvenated the organisation. These activities were continued until 1981 but again, the IWA’s activities were banned by the new regime. The activities were declared illegal. The IWA’s office was seized, several members were arrested and imprisoned, and once again IWA’s activities were banned.

In regards to IWA’s activities, I should explain that this is a professional and cultural organisation. On the professional front it defends the writer’s rights and on the cultural front it defends freedom of expression and is against censorship.

IWA was inactive for about a decade but despite many threats, it started to revitalise its activities. The pressure and danger were such that, during the Chain Political Murders in Iran in 1988, they murdered two IWA members. The IWA victims were four persons but the regime officially only admitted to the murder of two. This means the Intelligent Ministry admitted they killed just two of them. The IWA members have been under pressure all these years. In 1988, IWA members ran an election and elected a temporary board to restart its activities. Since then the Islamic Republic government has not allowed IWA to be active.

State censorship was increasing daily and it needed to be challenged. This meant Iranian writers had to do something. Since then IWA’s activities continued but of course “illegally”.  The regime put a lot of pressure on IWA members. The IWA has never been allowed to have an office and officially operate (except 2-3 years during the revolution). The IWA members have repeatedly been put under pressure and called upon by the intelligence and security organisations; four, five of its members are facing imprisonment or are in jail right now. Despite of all these pressures imposed on them by the state, a large number of writers remain members of IWA. For example, Ahmad Shamloo, who you might know. Despite all these pressures and intimidations, IWA is still active. IWA has a Facebook page and a channel on Telegram [social media mobile app which is popular in Iran]. IWA was publishing a periodical publication that was not allowed to continue. IWA issues statements on special occasions. These activities are still going on in this or another way.

I tried to paint a brief picture of the current situation of IWA and I hope I shed a bit of light on it. If Baktash thinks I missed something, I would be happy if he explains.

Baktash Abtin: It would be enough to add this, though Reza covered it: according to the Islamic Republic State, the IWA has always been an illegal organization. Therefore, its members, for their association with IWA, have been subjected to persecution and imprisonment and they will be under pressure. In addition, in Iran no media outlets are allowed to mention the IWA unless to offend, accuse or harass it. Now if you agree, please allow me to talk about Mr Reza Khandan Mahabadi, Mr Keyvan Bajan and my convictions, and also Mr Arash Ganji and other colleagues in IWA.

Mark Isaacs: Yes please, please.

Reza Khandan Mahabadi: Excuse me Baktash, before we address that, let me touch on an important issue. Is it okay?

Baktash Abtin: Yes please.

Reza Khandan Mahabadi: To address the importance of the IWA I have to mention that the censorship in Iran is so extensive that just yesterday Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran’s freedom of press 173 out of 180 countries around the word. The year before Iran’s ranking was 170. This year it dropped 3 places more. The IWA consider it a duty to be active to combat such a condition.

Mark Isaacs‪: Can you talk just a little bit more about the work both you do with the Iranian Writers Association but also your work more generally‪?

Baktash Abtin: I have published five poetry books and I have made more than ten feature and documentary films. But unfortunately for the past six years all my books have been banned from appearing in book exhibitions or bookstores. They did not allow the public to access my books nor my films to be screened. If the authorities were tipped off that a gathering was organised for me to read my poems or to screen my films, they would shoot the place down and, they do not allow the program to go ahead. This is not just limited to me, Mr Khandan who is here has the same situation.

Reza Khandan Mahabdi: I started my works in children’s literature about 40 years ago. At that time, 1978, I published a collection of children’s stories and a book on research and critique of children’s literature and several collections of children’s literature. I got arrested in 1981 for a while. I started a collection of writings called “Encyclopaedia of Fictions of People in Iran” with my colleague, Mr Ali Ashraf Darvishian in the late ‘80s, which was published in 19 volumes. I also published a collection of study and critique called “My Beloved Stories”, about selected short stories in Iran in the past 80 years, which was published in seven volumes. I also published a collection of stories called “The Solitaries” and of course many more essays and critiques like these. I said these to let you know I have been involved with censorship all these years. Like the other writers in Iran, I have been caught up with censorship without exception because the book must have permission from a government body for publication and this body sometimes changes the text or sometimes they do not give permission for publication. We have been caught up with censorship for many years, except for two to three years in 1977-1981 at the beginning of the revolution. All these years we have always been caught up with censorship, exclusion and elimination.

Mark Isaacs: Thank you for the information and I’m sorry to hear that you are under those kinds of restrictions. Can I ask what is exactly the opposition from the government to the IWA and the act of writing? Is it just the government or are there other groups involved that are in opposition to writers?

Reza Khandan Mahabdi: Specifically, and fundamentally, it is the government. There are no other groups, at least directly and publicly. This is the government that does not allow us to work. This is the government that we have to obtain permission for publishing books. The government, through organisations or bodies like the Intelligence Ministry, halts the activities of the IWA or any other independent organisation of writers. They summon us, they frame us with legal cases and imprison us. These are the problems we are facing directly. Of course, there are so called “cultural” newspapers like “Kayhan” that usually, with the posture of culture, attack the IWA or disseminate lies; or there are some writers who side with the government and occasionally attack the IWA, but fundamentally it is the government that has been against the IWA and does not allow us to work.

Mark Isaacs: Now I’d like to hear about your cases.

 

Baktash Abtin: The security forces attacked my house in April-May 2015 and confiscated more than 1000 of my poems. After a while, the same thing happened to Mr Reza Khandan Mahabdi and Keyvan Bajan. Later, they took us to the Culture and Media Court Subdivision 2 and we were charged. We were charged with printing illegal publications and propaganda against the state. I want to mention now that they opened two more cases against me and I was persecuted a lot. I do not include them here to prevent any mix up with this case. Our cases from the Culture and Media Court were transferred to the court in Evin prison. This time they charged us with other accusations including “propaganda against the state”, “assembly and collusion against national security”, “encouraging women to immorality or prostitution” and some baseless accusations. The latter was so ridiculous, even for the authorities, that it was removed from our cases. Then they referred us to the court and in the first trial the verdict was 6 years imprisonment. In the court we asked the judge to allow us to use our basic rights in order for our lawyer be present in the court and read the case because they did not pass on the case to our lawyer. But the judge aggressively, which is his usual attitude, did not accept our request; and since we insisted on our request, we refused to be charged officially and refused the judge to proceed with the trial, we were transferred to the Evin prison.

 

[In the Iranian courts, the judge reads the charges first and then the accused must sign the paper accepting they heard the charges. After that the court can start, but since their lawyers were not in the court, Reza, Baktash and Keyvan did not sign the paperwork. Therefore, they did not allow the judge to charge them officially. And the judge sent them directly to Evin prison.]

 

The judge then increased our bail amount from 100 million Toman to one billion Toman. Finally, in the court of appeal, Mr Khandan and my verdicts remained the same, 6 years imprisonments, but my colleague Mr Bazhan’s verdict was reduced to three years imprisonment. In March 2020, even though the Covid-19 virus was spreading all over the world, we were called to go prison to serve our sentences; because of Covid-19 we did not go to jail and now it’s unclear when they will come to arrest us and take us to prison. All this happened because we are members of the IWA, working for freedom of expression and against censorship. I do not have anything to add. If I missed something I would like Reza to cover it.

 

Reza Khandan Mahabadi: Just to highlight two points, when it is mentioned, five years ago they came to our homes and took our notes, handwriting, writings and films, it is important to clarify for Mark who they were and what organisation they belonged to. They were officials from the Ministry of Intelligence. The second point is we did not go to the Court of Culture and Media. This court gave the summons to the Ministry of Intelligence. They charged us after the interrogation in the Evin Security Court. The authorities in Iran label political prisoners as security prisoners.  It is necessary to know what their reasons were for those charges against us. I will explain the reasons one by one. The IWA has always issued statements according to its charter in regards to social events. The Iranian authorities used these statements to charge us for “propaganda against the state”. Ten members of IWA, two years ago, compiled a book about the history of IWA on its 50th anniversary. A small number of this book was published but the Ministry of Intelligence seized the books. This book was also used as evidence for “propaganda against the state”. For the mouthful charge of “assembly and collusion against national security”, the authorities imply the gathering of the IWA members on the graves of Ahmad Shamloo (renowned poet), Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh (two members of IWA who the intelligence service murdered in 1988). Their families, friends and IWA members have gathered every year on their graves to commemorate them, though the authorities have never allowed the gathering. These gatherings were used against us as “assembly and collusion against national security”. Another reason was the publishing of an internal publication. The IWA has an internal publication for its members. For the past 3-4 years we published around 200 copies. This publication was another reason for “propaganda against the state”. These so-called reasons to prove the charges, in fact, are not considered to incriminate anyone: to publish a magazine, to go to a graveyard to commemorate your fellow writers, and compiling a book. But the interrogators and judges use these accusations like “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security” to impose heavy penalties. Right now, by employing such accusations which have nothing to do with the reasons, they have imposed six years jail terms for Baktash and I and three years for Keyvan. I do not have any more explanations unless you have any other specific questions.

 

[Mark asked Reza and Baktash to explain a little bit more about the Chain Killings of the IWA members but the telephone line was disrupted and when it reconnected the conversation continued about mutual relationship between the IWA and the PEN centres in Australia and how PEN centres can support writers in Iran.]

 

Reza Khandan Mahabdi: Look, we the people in the literature sector all around the world should look after each other and I personally am surprised that the PEN associations in other countries either do not know about the IWA with its 50 years history or they know a little about us and the IWA’s activities. The priority for all the similar associations around the world is to look after each other. And about our legal cases, of course it is natural we believe these sentences are cruel. These sentences and accusations fundamentally have nothing to do with our activities. We expect PEN associations’ and public opinion’s pressure and campaigns will help revoke these sentences. We do not fear to pay a price for freedom of expression and we are aware that promoting freedom of expression in a place like Iran has a price to pay. But it does not mean we accept such an unjust verdict voluntarily. We expect all writers around the world to pay attention to this issue and to not allow writers to go to jail very easily.

 

Mark Isaacs‪: I could not agree more‪, I am grateful I have the opportunity to try and assist you.

 

Reza Khandan Mahabadi: And the question of how and in what ways to assist, I believe you have the knowledge of how to put pressure on the Iranian Government and its Judicial Ministry, which not only executes these sentences but cancels them too. This would be a victory for freedom of expression. This is to defend freedom of expression, not just three of us. This is to defend freedom and the right to have freedom of expression in this country and all around the world. In addition, we expect the relationship between the IWA and PEN associations in Australia and other places to continue, and to have more cooperation and to know each other better. I do not have anything else to add for now.

 

Baktash Abtin: My colleague’s words were good enough, but I’d like to add that freedom has never been gifted to anyone on a gold-wrapped plate. We ought to pay a heavy price for it. In countries like ours, where a dictatorship is ruling, while we are fighting for freedom of expression and against censorship, to obtain our natural rights seems more difficult. In a country like Iran, death is very cheap for intellectuals, freedom loving people and those who fight for freedom of expression. As my friend Reza Khandan said, we are not worried to face trials, to go to prison and endure sufferings, because we have made up our minds. While they ran the Chain Murders in 1988, or they tried to divert the full bus load of IWA members into a valley and portray it as an accident in 1996; if they have any opportunities, they will terminate us one by one. We, with complete knowledge of the risks, will emphasise our defined obligation, which is to fight for freedom of expression and against censorship. But we expect all our friends, writers, intellectuals and those who fight for freedom of expression around the world to support us, especially while they do not have a similar horrible situation like us. Your support is not for a couple of names, your support is about supporting a series of existences and making a stand, otherwise we would come and go. And, as I said, in third world countries, death is very cheap and suffering widely available. Therefore, we expect our friends to support us and our freedom. Thanks.

 

Mark Isaacs‪: Thank you guys‪, I really appreciate that you have given me the opportunity to speak with you‪, hear your stories‪. I do not think I have any more questions. I think you have covered everything I wanted to speak about, but I can assure you that Sydney PEN would like to engage in communication with you‪, with the IWA, and continue the dialogue and we will definitely support and promote a campaign in PEN International for your cases. It is a pleasure to speak with you‪.

 

Baktash Abtin: Thank you very much for your time to have such a constructive conversation.

 

Reza Khandan mahabadi: Thank you as well for this conversation. I hope we have conversations like this again and more often. Thanks for your time.

 

 

 

 

Monitoring of violations of cultural and human rights against cultural workers in Belarus. January-September 2021

The main cultural news right now is: emmigration, the liquidation of cultural organizations, trials, and arrests.

Maksim Žbankoŭ, journalist and culture expert

PEN Belarus is systematically collecting information on the implementation of cultural rights and the observance of the rights of cultural workers. Since August 2020, we have been both witnesses and recorders of the extreme pressure exerted upon Belarusian civil society, and cultural workers in particular. This is a tragic time for freedom of expression, creative freedom, and freedom of opinion. The protracted socio-political crisis is characterised by the trampling of fundamental rights and freedoms, the persecution of dissent, censorship, a climate of fear, and the displacement of political activists from the country.

This document contains statistics regarding these violations. It is based on open source information and communication with cultural workers between January and September 2021.

GENERAL RESULTS

Between January and September 2021:

This quantity is greater than the instances recorded throughout all of 2020 (593). It is possible to state without doubt that the pressure and repression – escalated by the authorities in August 2020 – show no sign of relenting, and that they are taking new forms as well as encompassing a wider range of subjects in the Belarusian cultural sphere.

The rate of violations, from January 2020 to the present day:

POLITICAL PRISONERS

As of September 30, 2021, 715 individuals in Belarus have been recognized as political prisoners. 60 of these are cultural workers:

  • Paviel Sieviaryniec, writer and social-political activist: Sentenced to 7 years in a strict regime penal colony on May 25, 2021.
  • Maksim Znak,  lawyer, poet, and lyricist: Sentenced to 10 years in a strict regime penal colony on September 6, 2021.
  • Philanthropist Viktar Babaryka: Sentenced to 14 years in a strict regime penal colony on July 6, 2021.
  • Ihnat Sidorčyk, poet and film director Ignat Sidorchik: Sentenced to 3 years of detention in an open correctional facility (This punishment is commonly known as “khimiya”) on February 16, 2021.
  • Miokola Dziadok, anarchist activist, prison literature author: On remand since November 11, 2020.
  • Julija Čarniaŭskaja, writer and cultural expert: Under house arrest (forbidden from going outside or communicating with others except her lawyer) since May 20, 2021.
  • Kaciaryna Andrejeva (Bachvalava), author and journalist: Sentenced to 2 years in a standard regime penal colony on February 18, 2021.
  • Andrej Pačobut, poet and member of the “Polish Union in Belarus”: On remand since March 27, 2021.
  • Andrej Alaksandraŭ, poet, journalist, and media manager: On remand since January 12, 2021.
  • Maryja Kaleśnikava, musician and cultural project manager: Sentenced to 11 years in penal colony on September 6, 2021.
  • Ihar Bancar, musician: Sentenced to 1.5 years in an open correctional facility on March 19, 2021.
  • Aleksey Sanchuk, drummer: Sentenced to 6 years in a strict regime penal colony on May 13, 2021.
  • Anatol Khinevich, poet and singer: Sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony on December 24, 2021.
  • Alaksandr Vasilevič, cultural project manager and businessman: On remand since August 28, 2020.
  • Eduard Babaryka, cultural manager: On remand since June 18, 2020.
  • Ivan Kaniavieha, concert agency director: Sentenced to 3 years in a penal colony on February 4, 2021.
  • Mia Mitkevich, cultural manager: Sentenced to 3 years in a penal colony on May 20, 2021.
  • Liavon Khalatran, cultural manager: Sentenced to 2 years in an open correctional facility on February 19, 2021.
  • Andżelika Borys, chair of “Polish Union of Belarus”: On remand since March 30, 2021.
  • Ales Pushkin, artist: On remand since March 30, 2021.
  • Siarhei Volkau, actor: Sentenced to 4 years in a strict regime penal colony on July 6, 2021.
  • Danila Hancharou,, lighting designer: Sentenced to 2 years in a penal colony on July 9, 2021.
  • Aliaksandr Nurdzinau, artist: Sentenced to 4 years in a strict regime penal colony on February 5, 2021.
  • Uladzislau Makavetski, artist: Sentenced to 2 years in a penal colony on December 16, 2020.
  • Artsiom Takarchuk, architect: Sentenced to 3.5 years in a penal colony on November 20, 2020.
  • Rastsislau Stefanovich, designer and architect: Sentenced to 8 years in a strict regime penal colony on July 19, 2021.
  • Maksim Taccianok, designer: Sentenced to 3 years in an open correctional facility on February 26, 2021.
  • Pavel Spiryn, documentary film author and blogger: Sentenced to 4.5 years in a penal colony on February 5, 2021.
  • Dzmitry Kubarau, UX-UI-Designer: Sentenced to 7 years in a strict regime penal colony on March 24, 2021.
  • Ksenia Syramalot, poet and publicist, philosophy and social sciences student at Belarus State University: Sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony on July 16, 2021.
  • Yana Arabeika and Kasia Budzko, aesthetic education faculty students at Belarus State Pedagogical University: Sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony on July 16, 2021.
  • Maryia Kalenik, exhibition design student at the Academy of Arts: Sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony on July 16, 2021.
  • Viktoryia Hrankouskaya, former architecture student from Belarus National Technical University: Sentenced to 2.5 years in a  penal colony on July 16, 2021.
  • Ihar Yarmolau and Mikalai Saseu, dancers: Sentenced to 5 years in a strict regime penal colony on June 10, 2021.
  • Anastasiya Mirontsava, academy of Arts student: Sentenced to 2 years in a penal colony on April 11, 2021 in her final year.
  • Sviatlana Kuprejeva (As of October 12, 2021, Sviatlana Kuprejeva was released on October 11, 2021. She spent 16 months in detention), poet, coordinator of Viktor Babariko’s team: On remand since June 11, 2020.
  • Aleś Bialacki, literary critic, researcher of Belarusian literary history, essayist, and rights defender: On remand since July 14, 2021.
  • Andrej Skurko, writer, musician, and author of the magazine “Nasha Istoria (Our History)”: On remand since July 8, 2021.
  • Paviel Larčyk, musician: Sentenced to 3 years in a penal colony on July 9, 2021.
  • Ivan Viarbicki, artist, animator: Sentenced to 8 years and 1 month in a strict regime penal colony on March 15, 2021.
  • Uladzimir Mackievič, philosopher and methodologist: On remand since August 4, 2021.
  • Uladzimir Kalač, Nadzieja Kalač, Piotr Marčanka, Julija Marčanka (Junickaja), Anton Šnip i Dźmitry Šymanski, musicians: On remand since August 2, 2021.
  • Andrej Pietrovskij, history and social studies teacher: Sentenced to 1.5 years in a penal colony on August 25, 2021.
  • Ksienija Luckina, historian, documentary film director, and journalist: On remand since August 25, 2021.
  • Aleś Minaŭ, writer, Belarusian language, and literature teacher: On remand since August 25, 2021.
  • Mikola Papieka, poet: Sentenced to  2 years in an open correctional facility on June  08, 2021.
  • Alaksandr Bahdanaŭ, cultural manager, musician: On remand since September 2, 2021.
  • Maksim Kruk, artist, scenographer: On remand since September 2, 2021.
  • Artur Amiraŭ, Musician, DJ: Sentenced to 3.5 years in a strict regime penal colony on August 20, 2021.
  • Dźmitry Padrez, street artist: On remand since July 15, 2021.
  • Jaŭhien Piatroŭ, musician: Sentenced to 1 year in a penal colony on September 11, 2021.
  • Valeryja Kaściuhova, author and editor, political scientist and analyst: On remand since June 30, 2021.
  • Jaŭhien Kračkoŭski, author of the project “Adveku (From time immemorial)”: On remand since September 8, 2021.

The authorities also brought criminal proceedings against:

Volha Kałackaja, translator: Sentenced to 2 years’ detention without being sent to an open correctional facility on March 24, 2021.

Uladzimir Hundar, local history expertand activist: Sentenced to 3 years in a penal colony on May 20, 2021.

Hanna Važnik, poet and musician: Sentenced to 1 year’s detention without being sent to an open correctional facility on June 28, 2021.

Julija Laptovič, librarian: Sentenced to 3 years of detention without being sent to an open correctional facility on August 4, 2021.

Taćciana Minina, designer: Sentenced to 4 years of detention without being sent to an open correctional facility on August 12, 2021.

Ihar Alinievič, publicist, anarchist activist: On remand since October 29, 2020.

From January to September 2021, the authorities launched criminal proceedings against 42 cultural workers and delivered the following sentences:

From the middle of June, the following cultural workers sentenced to open correctional facilities began their sentences: Musician Ihar Bancar, poet and film director Ihnat Sidorčyk, designer Maksim Taccianok, culture manager Liavon Khalatran, poet Mikola Papieka, musician Maksim Šaŭlinski (released in an amnesty in September), cultural manager Cimur Hazizaŭ, sentenced on September 20 to 2 years of detention in an open correctional facility but now free pending appeal.

DETENTION CONDITIONS

We continue to receive reports of draconian detention conditions that include:

  • Separate wake-ups and night inspections
  • The absence of mattresses
  • Overcrowded cells
  • A light that can burn for days
  • A radio that never stops playing
  • Insults from the guards
  • A ban on the reception of parcels
  • The absence – or delayed provision – of medical assistance
  • A ban on hospital admissions
  • A ban on taking necessary medication
  • A ban on meetings with relatives
  • A ban on doing sport (in the cell or in the breaks during work in the penal colony)
  • Conditions enabling infection by coronovarius
  • Placement in an isolation cell
  • The registration of inmates as “prone to extremism and other destructive behaviour” that means even harsher treatment: more regular cell inspections, handcuffs during all movement, and other conditions which are regularly characterised by those who were held there as a “torture chamber” and “bestial”.

Overall, we have recorded 80 reports of the harsh and humiliating detention conditions of cultural workers.

For the full report that has a lot more, click the link below:

https://penbelarus.org/en/2021/10/18/bel-ru-manitoryng-parushennyau-kulturnyh-pravou-i-pravou-chalaveka-u-dachynenni-da-dzeyachau-kultury-studzen-verasen-2021.html

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 awarded to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. 

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 awarded to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.

Announcement

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.

Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population. Ms Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.

Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions. In 1993, he was one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaja Gazeta. Since 1995 he has been the newspaper’s editor-in-chief for a total of 24 years. Novaja Gazeta is the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power. The newspaper’s fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media. Since its start-up in 1993, Novaja Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and ”troll factories” to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia.

Novaja Gazeta’s opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder. Since the newspaper’s start, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaja who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya. Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper’s independent policy. He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism.

Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.

Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time. This year’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize is therefore firmly anchored in the provisions of Alfred Nobel’s will.

Oslo, 8 October 2021

Together in Literature: 100 Years of PEN International

At the Wheeler Centre:

at wheelercentre.comBook now

Together in Literature: 100 Years of PEN International

Tickets available at the link below:

https://www.wheelercentre.com/events/together-in-literature-100-years-of-pen-international

For 100 years, PEN has been committed to defending the freedom of all people to express ideas without fear of attack, arrest, murder or other forms of persecution. This centenary arrives at a time when borders are closing, authoritarianism is ascendant and the voices of many are silenced. In the face of this opposition, PEN continues to uphold the fundamental role of literature as a force for change, in bringing together people of diverse experiences, fostering understanding and inspiring conversations across cultures.

In this special event, held on the international Day of the Imprisoned Writer, join an assembly of voices and languages as we pay tribute to the work of PEN and rejoice in the power of the written word. Featuring readings and reflections from Arnold Zable, Shokoofeh Azar, Hidayet Ceylan, Jackie Mansourian, Anna Takluem and Chris Lwin. Hosted by PEN Melbourne Ambassador Sami Shah.

Presented in partnership with PEN Melbourne and supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund. Help support PEN’s campaigns to defend persecuted and imprisoned writers.

Kidnapping, assassination and a London shoot-out: Inside the CIA’s secret war plans against WikiLeaks

Kidnapping, assassination and a London shoot-out: Inside the CIA’s secret war plans against WikiLeaks

·39 min read
In 2017, as Julian Assange began his fifth year holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, the CIA plotted to kidnap the WikiLeaks founder, spurring heated debate among Trump administration officials over the legality and practicality of such an operation.

Some senior officials inside the CIA and the Trump administration even discussed killing Assange, going so far as to request “sketches” or “options” for how to assassinate him. Discussions over kidnapping or killing Assange occurred “at the highest levels” of the Trump administration, said a former senior counterintelligence official. “There seemed to be no boundaries.”

The conversations were part of an unprecedented CIA campaign directed against WikiLeaks and its founder. The agency’s multipronged plans also included extensive spying on WikiLeaks associates, sowing discord among the group’s members, and stealing their electronic devices.

While Assange had been on the radar of U.S. intelligence agencies for years, these plans for an all-out war against him were sparked by WikiLeaks’ ongoing publication of extraordinarily sensitive CIA hacking tools, known collectively as “Vault 7,” which the agency ultimately concluded represented “the largest data loss in CIA history.”

President Trump’s newly installed CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was seeking revenge on WikiLeaks and Assange, who had sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape allegations he denied. Pompeo and other top agency leaders “were completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7,” said a former Trump national security official. “They were seeing blood.”

Michael Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), listens during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 11, 2017. ( Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Former CIA Director Mike Pompeo in 2017. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The CIA’s fury at WikiLeaks led Pompeo to publicly describe the group in 2017 as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” More than just a provocative talking point, the designation opened the door for agency operatives to take far more aggressive actions, treating the organization as it does adversary spy services, former intelligence officials told Yahoo News. Within months, U.S. spies were monitoring the communications and movements of numerous WikiLeaks personnel, including audio and visual surveillance of Assange himself, according to former officials.

This Yahoo News investigation, based on conversations with more than 30 former U.S. officials — eight of whom described details of the CIA’s proposals to abduct Assange — reveals for the first time one of the most contentious intelligence debates of the Trump presidency and exposes new details about the U.S. government’s war on WikiLeaks. It was a campaign spearheaded by Pompeo that bent important legal strictures, potentially jeopardized the Justice Department’s work toward prosecuting Assange, and risked a damaging episode in the United Kingdom, the United States’ closest ally.

The CIA declined to comment. Pompeo did not respond to requests for comment.

“As an American citizen, I find it absolutely outrageous that our government would be contemplating kidnapping or assassinating somebody without any judicial process simply because he had published truthful information,” Barry Pollack, Assange’s U.S. lawyer, told Yahoo News.

Assange is now housed in a London prison as the courts there decide on a U.S. request to extradite the WikiLeaks founder on charges of attempting to help former U.S. Army analyst Chelsea Manning break into a classified computer network and conspiring to obtain and publish classified documents in violation of the Espionage Act.

“My hope and expectation is that the U.K. courts will consider this information and it will further bolster its decision not to extradite to the U.S.,” Pollack added.

Read the full article here:

https://news.yahoo.com/kidnapping-assassination-and-a-london-shoot-out-inside-the-ci-as-secret-war-plans-against-wiki-leaks-090057786.html?soc_src=social-sh&soc_trk=fb&tsrc=fb
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PEN Melbourne committee members were appalled at the response they received (below) from the office of Foreign Minister Marise Payne to the letter they sent urging the Australian Government to protect Julian Assange from the continued torture he endures in a British prison and to help stop his extradition to the USA.
We publish a response by Arnold Zable to call out the callousness of the Australian Government towards Assange.
We also recommend Payne, Morrison and their Government watch this short compilation youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18LfJ5yGMoc
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This is why I regard Kafka as the greatest writer of the twentieth century. His stories and novels, especially ‘The trial’, exposed this bureaucratic brutality — how innocent people could be tortured and left in legal limbo, and driven to madness, while the perpetrators camouflaged the crime, and their own consciences, by hiding behind the cold, lifeless language of procedure. Behind this short letter, lies so much real life agony, and it can be applied to all too many contemporary scenarios. Assange is ‘the other.’ He has been ‘othered’ And if he is driven mad, and driven to suicide, or committed to a virtual lifetime in prison, those who have driven him mad, and destroyed his life, will shrug their shoulders and wash their hands of it, and issue statements such as this. I bet the word they will use, if the worst happens, will be ‘regret’. Another one of those weasel words. The horror. The horror.
Arnold 
*
Here is the response from Minister Payne’s DFAT:
Here is the letter sent to Minister Payne, the Prime Minister and other members of the government:
August 25, 2021
Attention: We urge the Australian Government to protect Julian Assange and stop his extradition to the USA
Prime Minister of Australia
Honorable Scott Morrison
Dear Prime Minister,The Melbourne Centre of PEN International is deeply concerned for the wellbeing of Julian Assange.We are deeply disturbed by your Government’s apparent inaction to protect an Australian citizen who has shown immense courage as a journalist and a publisher.We urge you to utilise all your Government’s diplomatic strength and will with Australia’s strongest allies, the US and the UK, to free Assange from UK’s Belmarsh High Security Prison and to prevent his extradition to the US, before the US appeal to the UK High Court in late October, 2021.PEN Melbourne is a human rights organisation committed to advocating for freedom of expression, and supporting writers who are imprisoned in political contexts of tyranny. As presented in the open letter[1] by Lawyers for Assange to the UK Prime Minister, Mr Boris Johnson: “There is broad international consensus that political offences should not be the basis of extradition.[2] This is reflected in Art. 3 of the 1957 European Convention on Extradition, Art. 3 ECHR, Art. 3(a) of the UN Model Treaty on Extradition, the Interpol Constitution and every bilateral treaty ratified by the US for over a century”.We are sure that you and your government have been following the changing judicial circumstances of Julian Assange. We reiterate here what has taken place in 2021 and urge your action.On 4 January, 2021 the District Judge of the Westminster Magistrate’s Court ruled against the US request to extradite Assange on medical grounds relating to his poor mental health.  As you are aware the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and medical experts had previously visited Assange in 2019, and his report said the following, ‘’Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture…”.[3] The Westminster Magistrate Judge’s decision earlier this year relied on evidence from Michael Kopelman, a professor of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London, who told the court he believed Assange would take his own life if extradited.

The US appealed the January decision to the UK High Court on 11 August, 2021.

US Counsel has been granted permission to appeal on five grounds, including a reassessment of the expert evidence used to evaluate Julian Assange’s risk of suicide.

The full appeal will be heard at the High Court on 27 and 28 October.

We urge you to protect this Australian writer in prison. Up to now you have compromised your duty of care to Mr. Assange whose case sets a dangerous precedent for journalists everywhere.  In this time available we urge you to use your full diplomatic force and relations with Australia’s allies and immediately make a strong representation to the UK government to release Julian Assange from prison. We ask you to work with the US leadership and urge them to drop the appeal to extradite Julian Assange.

 

These actions are the basic measures required to provide protection of Julian Assange’s most fundamental human rights and dignity.

Thank you

 

Jackie Mansourian and Josephine Scicluna

Co-Convenors of Writers in Prison, PEN Melbourne

 

[1] https://www.lawyersforassange.org/en/open-letter.html#_edn9

[2] R. Stuart Phillips, ‘The Political Offence Exception and Terrorism: Its Place in the Current Extradition Scheme and Proposal for Its Future’, 15 Dickinson Journal of International Law, (1997) p. 342.

[3] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, ‘UN expert says “collective persecution” of Julian Assange must end now, (31 May 2019)’, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24665.

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JOHN PILGER: A Day in the Death of British Justice

The reputation of British justice now rests on the shoulders of the High Court in the life or death case of Julian Assange.

Extracts of an article by  John Pilger in London
Special to Consortium News, 12 August, 2021

For those who may have forgotten, WikiLeaks, of which Assange is founder and publisher, exposed the secrets and lies that led to the invasion of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the murderous role of the Pentagon in dozens of countries, the blueprint for the 20-year catastrophe in Afghanistan, the attempts by Washington to overthrow elected governments, such as Venezuela’s, the collusion between nominal political opponents (Bush and Obama) to stifle a torture investigation and the CIA’s Vault 7 campaign that turned your mobile phone, even your TV set, into a spy in your midst.

WikiLeaks released almost a million documents from Russia which allowed Russian citizens to stand up for their rights. It revealed the Australian government had colluded with the U.S. against its own citizen, Assange. It named those Australian politicians who have “informed” for the U.S. It made the connection between the Clinton Foundation and the rise of jihadism in American-armed states in the Gulf.

About Those Who Take Us to War

There is more: WikiLeaks disclosed the U.S. campaign to suppress wages in sweatshop countries like Haiti, India’s campaign of torture in Kashmir, the British government’s secret agreement to shield “U.S. interests” in its official Iraq inquiry and the British Foreign Office’s plan to create a fake “marine protection zone” in the Indian Ocean to cheat the Chagos islanders out of their right of return.

In other words, WikiLeaks has given us real news about those who govern us and take us to war, not the preordained, repetitive spin that fills newspapers and television screens. This is real journalism; and for the crime of real journalism, Assange has spent most of the past decade in one form of incarceration or another, including Belmarsh prison, a horrific place.

———-

If you can unravel the arcane logic of this, you have a better grasp than I who have sat through this case from the beginning. It is clear Kopelman misled nobody. Judge Baraitser – whose hostility to Assange personally was a presence in her court – said that she was not misled; it was not an issue; it did not matter. So why had Lord Chief Justice Holroyde spun the language with its weasel legalise and sent Julian back to his cell and its nightmares? There, he now waits for the High Court’s final decision in October – for Julian Assange, a life or death decision.

In the Land of Magna Carta

And why did Holroyde send Stella from the court trembling with anguish? Why is this case “unusual”? Why did he throw the gang of prosecutor-thugs at the Department of Justice in Washington — who got their big chance under Trump, having been rejected by Obama – a life raft as their rotting, corrupt case against a principled journalist sunk as surely as Titantic?

This does not necessarily mean that in October the full bench of the High Court will order Julian to be extradited. In the upper reaches of the masonry that is the British judiciary there are, I understand, still those who believe in real law and real justice from which the term “British justice” takes its sanctified reputation in the land of the Magna Carta. It now rests on their ermined shoulders whether that history lives on or dies.

To read the full article, follow this link:
Another Consortium News article containing a lot of detail about the US appeal is:

LETTER FROM LONDON: Worrying Turn in Assange Case

The U.S. victory in court on Wednesday makes the prospects for Julian Assange at October’s appeal hearing murky at best, writes Alexander Mercouris.
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Ryan Grim: State Dept DODGES Question On Julian Assange, Support Of Free Press

In this Youtube, Ryan Grim breaks down the state department’s hypocritical support of international press freedom while attempting to prosecute Julian Assange.
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PEN International urges United Kingdom and USA: Immediately release Julian Assange and drop extradition case

Responding to the news, Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, said:

‘The charges faced by Julian Assange in the US represent a huge threat to media freedom and investigative journalism everywhere. Our position is clear. Espionage laws should not be used against journalists and publishers for disclosing information of public interest. We once again urge the US authorities to drop the case against Assange and to withdraw their extradition appeal.’

Daniel Gorman, Director of English PEN, said:

‘The UK authorities must uphold their commitment to press freedom and prevent Julian Assange’s extradition to the US. Assange has been held in Belmarsh High Security Prison for over two years. This case has deeply concerning implications for press freedom and as such he should be released as a matter of urgency.’

https://pen-international.org/news/united-kingdom-usa-immediately-release-julian-assange-and-drop-extradition-case

A win for transparency, but now Collaery prosecution must be dropped

 

A win for transparency, but now Collaery prosecution must be dropped

Kieran Pender

The sorry saga of the prosecution of Bernard Collaery, an eminent Canberra lawyer, has seen a number of unhappy chapters. His prosecution, for Collaery’s alleged role in exposing Australia’s espionage against friendly neighbours Timor-Leste, is profoundly unjust.

But the Attorney-General’s attempt to shroud the trial in secrecy has also been particularly egregious. On Wednesday, the ACT Court of Appeal upheld the importance of open justice. In a landmark ruling, the court decided that important parts of the trial must be open to the public.

Lawyer Bernard Collaery is being prosecuted for allegedly helping his then client, Witness K, reveal aspects of an alleged secret bugging operation against East Timor.
Lawyer Bernard Collaery is being prosecuted for allegedly helping his then client, Witness K, reveal aspects of an alleged secret bugging operation against East Timor.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

To fully appreciate the seismic significance of this judgment, it is instructive to consider a key provision in the National Security Information Act. Buried deep within this complex law, which governs the use of evidence relevant to national security in civil and criminal cases, section 32(8) tilts the scales of justice away from transparency and towards secrecy.

The provision provides that in making orders under the National Security Information Act, the court “must give greatest weight” to the views of the Attorney-General on prejudice to national security. Such prejudice is thus given paramount significance, deemed by the legislation to be more important than the defendant’s fair trial rights, and open justice (which is not even explicitly mentioned in the provision).

It was not particularly surprising then that, mid-last year, the trial judge in Collaery’s prosecution granted the secrecy orders sought by the then-attorney-general Christian Porter. When the scales are weighted in favour of secrecy, those fighting for transparency have a mountain to climb. Collaery appealed but, given the legislative imbalance, it was hard to be optimistic.

Which makes the win for transparency today all the more remarkable. Such was the importance of open justice, said the Court of Appeal, that it overwhelmed even the “greatest weight” that was necessarily applied to the attorney-general’s views on national security. A summary of the judgment posted online noted that “the open hearing of criminal trials was important because it deterred political prosecutions”.

Collaery’s win on Wednesday is a positive step. But there remains much work to be done in Australia to ensure open justice is protected and whistleblowers can speak up about wrongdoing without fear of prosecution.

Most urgently, the prosecutions of Collaery, war crimes whistleblower David McBride and tax office whistleblower Richard Boyle should be dropped by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. These prosecutions are not in the public interest – each whistleblower spoke up about wrongdoing and now faces jail time. The Director possesses the authority to discontinue cases at any time – that power should be exercised.

Law reform is also urgent and long overdue. The law to protect public sector whistleblowers, the Public Interest Disclosure Act, is no longer fit for purpose. In 2016, an independent review provided the government with a road map for reform. Five years later, and despite belatedly accepting most of the recommendations in 2020, the government has still not enacted amendments.

It is unconscionable that the Morrison government is overseeing the prosecution of whistleblowers (and, in the Collaery case, gave explicit consent) yet refuses to act on whistleblowing reform.

The National Security Information Act must also be overhauled. It tilts the scales too far in favour of secrecy. In another recent case, that of Witness J, an ex-intelligence officer was charged and sentenced to almost three years’ imprisonment in total secret. If it was not for a series of fortunate coincidences, we might have never known about his plight. A law that permits fully secret trials has no place in our democracy.

The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor is currently investigating the Witness J case, and has foreshadowed an intent to consider the entire National Security Information Act once the ongoing whistleblower prosecutions finish. Once those reviews are concluded, the government must commit to reforming the National Security Information Act to ensure it better protects the public interest in transparency and open justice.

While it is welcome news that Collaery’s prosecution will not go ahead in complete secrecy, it should not go ahead at all. Collaery’s prosecution, and those against whistleblowers McBride and Boyle, are profoundly unjust. The prosecutions should be discontinued, and the laws that gave rise to them must be reformed. Australians who speak up about wrongdoing should be protected, not punished.

Kieran Pender is a senior lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

UPDATE from Susan Connelly

Dear All,

We continue to await the outcome of Bernard Collaery’s appeal challenging a ruling to hold his trial largely in secret under national security laws.
As soon as I know anything, I will pass the information on.
There are many other matters which concern us all. Here are a few:
Democracy
Here is a link to DEMOCRACY DOSSIER: Secrecy and Power in Australia’s National Security State.  
https://cdn.getup.org.au/2836-GetUp-Democracy-Dossier.pdf  This is fairly harrowing, but necessary to read.
Bernard Collaery is shown as an example of how our democratic values have been undermined by counter- terrorism powers and a growing culture of government secrecy.  I highly recommend it.  
Also recommended is Clinton Fernandes’s “Rules-based Order”. Well worth reading, pondering and acting on.  https://arena.org.au/the-rules-based-order/
 
Afghanistan
Many people across Australia are working very hard to address the plight of Afghani people. A new group across the Christian churches has recently formed:  Christians United for Afghanistan  https://www.unitedforafghanistan.com/  There’s the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) https://capsa.org.au/ And Jesuit Refugee Services https://mailchi.mp/jrs.org.au/updates-from-the-frontlines?e=837b6bed72
I’ve attached a letter I wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald at the end of August.

René Girard

René Girard’s  remarkable insights are helping many people to reflect on the violence in our world.
Here are four documents either 20 or 4 pages in length, with illustrations and other links:  https://justly.info/rene-girard/
Some of the ideas posed are about desire, imitation, rivalry, scapegoating and violence.

I find Girard’s work extremely useful when considering the state of the world.

Here’s an article by Dr Joel Hodge where he  discusses the concept of “jihardism” using Girard’s approach. https://www.thedefensepost.com/2021/09/07/lessons-jihadists-afghanistan/

West Papua

Pro-independence political activist, Victor Yeimo has been arbitrarily arrested and charged with treason for peacefully protesting against racial discrimination in Indonesia. Please join me in signing this petition demanding the Indonesian authorities grant Victor Yeimo’s immediate release or prosecute him in a fair trial. 

https://action.amnesty.org.au/act-now/indonesia-release-peaceful-anti-racism-protester-victor-yeimo?fbclid=IwAR2b1u52J7ARaOH8WkzQoFu3m8kzP_sYVFjTSBXgdx4hBcXl6BC8hdV24i0

Very best wishes to all,

Susan

Sister Susan Connelly
14 Yerrick Road

Communication from GetUp:

In a few weeks, a report commissioned by 4,481 GetUp members will be released detailing how anti-democratic legislation since 9/11 has transformed Australia into one of the most secretive states in the democratic world. The explosive dossier exposes how sweeping laws by successive governments have eroded our democracy.

After relentless attempts from the Morrison Government to silence journalists, more than 6,000 GetUp members commissioned a huge press freedom mural in Sydney’s CBD.

In addition to the tens of thousands of people who walked by, the cheeky sky-high cartoon was picked up by one of the largest youth publishers in the world, 1 reaching millions of eyeballs online.

If that wasn’t enough, members helped transform the mural into a full-page newspaper ad seen by almost a million people in the The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Under the Morrison Government things have gotten worse, and public interest journalists and whistleblowers risk jail time for doing their jobs and duty. From raiding the ABC over the Afghan Files, to convicting Witness K in a secret Government trial. And now his lawyer, Bernard Colleary, is himself facing the same treatment — prompting resurged calls for an urgent inquiry into intelligence legislation.2,3

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The Australian Bar Association calls on the Commonwealth to reconsider the prosecution of Bernard Collaery

28 July 2021

The Australian Bar Association shares the concerns of the ACT Bar Association in relation to the prosecution of barrister and former Deputy Chief Minister of the ACT and ACT Attorney-General, Bernard Collaery.

Mr Collaery advised the East Timor Resistance movement and represented Witness K in a legal case brought by the Timor-Leste Government against the Australian Government.

The prosecution relates to events which occurred in 2004. The prosecution was commenced at the end of May 2018 with the consent of the (former) Attorney-General, a consent which his predecessor had not granted.

The prosecution has largely taken place in secret, with much of the evidence suppressed. The basis upon which evidence needs to be suppressed is, itself, the subject of suppression. This impedes the ability of the legal profession and the public to scrutinise the administration of justice in this important case.

Further background can be found in the ACT Bar Association’s media release here.

The Council of the Australian Bar Association this week unanimously passed the following resolution:

The ABA expresses its concerns about the delays in the prosecution of Mr Collaery and the secret nature of the proceedings and suppression of much of the evidence as raising rule of law concerns going to the open and fair administration of justice.

President of the ABA, Matthew Howard SC, said, “This matter raises two, fundamental rule of law questions as to the fair and open administration of justice – the length of time it has taken to prosecute the matter, and the suppression of evidence. For the public to have confidence in the administration of justice, it is vital that prosecutions proceed in a timely manner, and that the workings of the courts be open to public scrutiny to the maximum extent possible. The public will rightly be concerned, in relation to Mr Collaery, that little is or can be known about the prosecution, and that it is continuing some 17 years after the events in question.

“The ABA urges the federal Attorney-General to reconsider the prosecution in light of these significant rule of law issues.”

About the ABA

The Australian Bar Association is the peak body representing nearly 6,000 barristers throughout Australia. Established in 1963, the ABA is committed to serving, promoting and representing its members, as well as advocating for fair and equal justice for all.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES: media@austbar.asn.au or call Elizabeth Gray on 0401 561 554.

https://austbar.asn.au/news-media/the-australian-bar-association-calls-on-the-commonwealth-to-reconsider-the-prosecution-of-bernard-collaery

 

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Whistleblowers: The latest on Bernard Collaery and call for a pardon and compensation for Witness K
Dear supporters of justice and democracy
We still don’t know when the decision will be brought down on Bernard’s appeal, but it could happen at short notice, so please keep an eye out for news on that. There is a date of 29 July on the court lists, but I understand that date may just be a mention. I’ll keep you posted.
We are calling for a pardon for Witness K and compensation for the years of stress he has been put through. Here’s a recent article: Albert McNight, Witness K: redacted documents reveal the life of spy and whistleblower, The RiotACT, 11 July 2021.
Planning is well underway for a webinar on David McBride’s case, to be hosted by UQ. Panelists will be Prof and journalist Peter Greste, Law Council President Jacoba Brasch SC, Senior Lawyer, Kieran Pender from Human Rights Law Centre and Rebecca Ananian-Walsh, senior lawyer at UQ. Date to be confirmed, likely mid-late August.
We know that in these cases, national security is being used to hide the crimes of politicians and their advisers, and the surveillance legislation, over 80 pieces, has gone right over the top. See the article by Brian Toohey The rise and rise of Australian authoritarianism, The Saturday Paper, 17-23 July.
We have recently written to President Biden asking him to drop the prosecution and extradition of Julian Assange, and also wrote a letter of support to Julian Assange who recently turned 50 in prison.  Stella Moris, Julian Assange’s partner, blasts the prosecution as case collapses,YouTube video, 13 July.  We also wrote to Jennifer Robinson, thanking her for her work on behalf of Julian and other human rights matters.
Supporters in Queensland and SA are approaching their Bar Associations  as well as letters sent by CLA to around 16 law firms in Australia, seeking more support for Bernard. The ACT Bar Assoc has put out a media release in support.
Please take a moment to either sign the petition for Bernard and Witness K, or if you have signed it, send the link to your friends.  The petition will be closed off soon – it has nearly reached 60,000 signatures. Let’s get there and more!!
Two events that might be of ACT readers interest have flyers attached – The fundraiser dinner for MAPW with David McBride speaking has been rescheduled to 13 August (COVID permitting) and a Manning Clark house talk with former Bishop George Browning (a speaker at one of our recent rallies) speaking about his new book and rising authoritarianism in Australia on Sat 7 August. Bookings and further details on the flyers.
Don’t forget to write to the CDPP asking her to drop the cases against Bernard, David and Richard Boyle, at Sarah.Mcnaughton@cdpp.gov.au   Ian Cunliffe’s articles on our June Articles website page may be of assistance.   Don’t forget also to visit the aapp.ipan.org.au website for more articles, a book review of Peter Job’s A narrative of denial and videos and more!
For justice and democracy
Kathryn Kelly
Co-Convenor of AAPP
__________________________________________________________________
Dear supporters of justice and democracy
On Friday, Witness K was sentenced to a three month suspended sentence and a 12 month good behaviour bond. While many are expressing relief that he is not facing jail, and that is a valid feeling, the fact is he should never have faced prosecution for expressing concerns about an illegal ISIS action.
See AAPP’s media release of 18 June.  We thank Witness K for his courage,  and will pursue a pardon and compensation for his stress and persecution over so many years.
The ISIS action has been described by a former DPP as a conspiracy to defraud, which was perpetrated not only against Timor-Leste but also the people of Australia, and which raises many questions. Who ordered the bugging?  Who ordered the removal of the words, ‘and inert gases’ from the definition of petroleum thus excluding helium from it and handing windfall profits to Woodside and ConocoPhillips, and loss of rightful revenue to Timor-Leste and Australia? How has this impacted our international relations with a number of countries?  Where was Australia’s good faith in these negotiations?
See the important articles by Ian Cunliffe here for more details on the bugging and helium and also on the CDPP’s prosecution policy.
The need for a strong federal ICAC has never been more urgent. Christian Porter’s pathetic efforts producing such legislation must be improved on by the current AG, Michaelia Cash.
I suggest people ring and/write to Michaelia Cash and the Commonwealth DPP asking them politely to explain in detail how it is in the public interest to continue the prosecution of Bernard Collaery. And ask the AG for strong ICAC legislation!  I’d urge people to also ring/write to Marise Payne, asking how it is that she is allowing our national relations with Timor-Leste to be so damaged by the prosecutions.
AG Michaelia Cash   08-9226 2000  or 6277 7300  Senator.Cash@aph.gov.au
FM Marise Payne  02-9687 8755 or 6277 7500  Senator.Payne@aph.gov.au
CDPP     (0)2 9321 1240      Sarah.McNaughton@cdpp.gov.au
Christian Porter was unfit to be AG and his legacy with his appalling judgement in approving these prosecutions, including that of David McBride, should not continue one minute longer.
Meanwhile we await the decision on Bernard’s appeal and David McBride’s public interest defence hearing on 20 September.
Don’t miss the MAPW Fundraising dinner, 6.30pm Fri 9 July at Ainslie FC with speaker, David McBride, tickets $75!  Flyer attached with further details.
For Justice and Democracy
Kathryn Kelly, Co-convenor of the Alliance Against Political Prosecutions
Thanks to Ian Melrose of OpticalSuperstores for funding the Canberra Times ad on Tuesday.
Thanks to Gilbert + Tobin, Bernard’s lawyers for their invaluable work.
 
Photos from Parliament House rally 17 June 2021, thanks to people who donned the bags!  Photos by, and thanks to, Leo Bild

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Dear All,

The Witness K hearing this week will be held on 3 and 4 June. It seems it will be a sentencing hearing.

I can guarantee that you would find the following YouTube clip very interesting. It is nearly half an hour, but is well worth viewing.  Senator Kim Carr and Senator Rex Patrick engage with the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General in discussing just what the “public interest” is in the cases of Bernard Collaery and Witness K.

You might consider contacting these Senators regarding their dogged pursuit of truth and justice in this matter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWzKOWjlKgg

I’ll contact you again after the Witness K Hearing.

Best wishes to all

Susan

Timor Sea Justice Forum Facebook

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/TSJForum

Bernard Collaery – Go Fund Me

Petition: Drop the Prosecutions of Witness K and Bernard Collaery

Sister Susan Connelly

14 Yerrick Road

Lakemba NSW 2195

0498 473 341

www.justly.info

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The most recent hearing for Witness K was held on Monday 29th March. The demonstration was addressed by Alicia Payne, MP for Canberra, Flavia Abduraman, (https://muckrack.com/flavia-abdurahman), and Susan Connelly. A fire truck with a grand display of “Drop the Prosecutions” was provided by Ian Fraser and Ian Melrose, design by Cate Adams. On the same day, there was a demonstration outside the Australian Consulate in Auckland. Hooray for our NZ friends! Thanks to Maire Leadbeater.  Click here for photos.

On Wednesday 31 March the ANU webinar was seen by 400 people, many of whom sent in questions. The speeches by Nicholas Cowdery, Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, Kieran Pender and Pauline Wright were incisive and challenging. Kim Rubenstein did a great job of moderating. Click here for the recording from the ANU. Well worth viewing – an excellent event.

Here are two newspaper reports on the Webinar:

Guilty parties remain free in ‘chilling’ Witness K prosecution

Commonwealth prosecutors wrong on Witness K case, former NSW DPP says    

The ACT  Bar Association has sent out a superb media release: Time to Reconsider the Prosecution of Bernard Collaery

Time to reconsider prosecution of Bernard Collaery

With the announcement that Christian Porter will be replaced as Commonwealth Attorney-General, the ACT Bar Association calls on incoming Attorney, The Hon. Michaelia Cash to review the prosecution of former ACT Attorney-General Bernard Collaery.

Bernard Collaery who, for more than 30 years, had advised the East Timor Resistance movement and leading figures involved in the push for independence, represented Witness K in a legal case brought by the Timor-Leste Government against the Australian Government before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the Netherlands.  Witness K was accused of disclosing secret information related to an operation conducted by Australia’s foreign intelligence agency, ASIS, to bug the office of Timor-Leste’s prime minister during oil and gas treaty negotiations in 2004.

In December 2013, ASIO and the AFP raided the homes of Witness K and Bernard Collaery.  Almost 4½ years passed before, on 30 May 2018, both were charged under section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001.

The maximum penalty for this offence is 2 years imprisonment – the same maximum penalty for failing to pay for a restaurant meal.

Because of the nature of the allegations, the charges brought against Bernard Collaery can only be pursued with the consent of the Attorney-General.  Consent to prosecute was first sought from then Attorney-General George Brandis in September 2015. Having obtained advice from two Commonwealth DPPs and the Solicitor-General Mr Stephen Donaghue SC, by the time Mr Brandis was replaced by Mr Porter in December 2017, no consent was forthcoming.

Mr Bret Walker SC, the former independent monitor of Australia’s national security legislation, and now representing Mr Collaery, told ABC Four Corners in 2019 “I imagine the former attorney, Senator Brandis, didn’t find this a straightforward case to say yes to. That’s a very long time for something to be sitting on an attorney’s desk. I imagine it was not for want of thinking about it, that that time elapsed.”

However, within a few months of taking over the portfolio, Christian Porter gave his consent to prosecute the matter in what was criticised by many, including independent MP Andrew Wilkie and former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, as a political decision.

The ongoing prosecution of Bernard Collaery has drawn criticism from many quarters, including retired judicial officers and academics.

The prosecution itself has been marked by further controversary with the secret nature of the proceedings and the suppression of much of the evidence that might be given in the case.

In June 2020, Justice David Mossop of the ACT Supreme Court ruled that material identified by the Attorney-General Christian Porter should be suppressed under the provisions of the National Security Information Act.  That ruling was based upon a secret certificate issued by Christian Porter certifying the material as prejudicial to national security. How, and in what respect, that material is said to be sensitive is itself suppressed.

Bernard Collaery is a 76-year-old man who came to Australia as a boy. He has spent his entire adult life serving the people of Australia. He has served as a First Secretary in the Australian Embassy in France, as the first Attorney-General of the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly and has had a long and honorable career both in politics and in private practice as a lawyer.  Bernard Collaery has over decades helped, either for free or at greatly reduced charges, many clients.

There is an available perception that Bernard Collaery is being prosecuted by the Government for his involvement in acting for a man who brought to light allegations of improper and illegal behaviour by the Government.

It is difficult to identify any public, as opposed to political, interest in continuing this prosecution.  It is now eight years since the AFP raided Mr Collaery’s home, and 17 years since the alleged bugging operation. In the interim, the Commonwealth Government has now spent in excess of $3 million pursuing Mr Collaery for his role in acting for Witness K.

With the swearing in of our new Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, an opportunity arises to review the prosecution and, to withdraw consent for it to continue.

The Bar Association of the Australian Capital Territory earnestly calls on the incoming Attorney to undertake such a review.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-26/brandis-had-misgivings-about-prosecuting-witness-k-and-collaery/11449758

End
1 April 2021

Media contact:

Andrew Muller
President ACT Bar Association

Joanne Dean-Ritchie
Executive Officer
0439 990 305

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Another Webinar to Come:

Trashing Democratic Rights in Australia – Discussion and Q&A with Bernard Collaery and Greg Barnes SC, online 6.30pm (AEST) Tuesday April 20th,  Register here.

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By Kieran Pender

As we reach the end of 2020, four individuals – Bernard Collaery, Witness K, David McBride and Richard Boyle – are being prosecuted by our government. These whistleblowers spoke up in the public interest, and now face the very real prospect of jail time. If we want to live in a transparent, accountable democracy, that should trouble us all.

Collaery and Witness K revealed that Australia bugged Timor-Leste’s cabinet, to help our government in ripping off an impoverished neighbour during tense oil and gas negotiations. McBride blew the whistle on the alleged actions of Australian special forces in Afghanistan – conduct characterised as potential war crimes by the Inspector-General. Boyle called out aggressive debt recovery practices by the Australian Taxation Office, which deliberately targeted vulnerable small businesses.

In each case, these whistleblowers raised their concerns internally first. Witness K articulated their misgivings with the Inspector-General for Intelligence and Security, in consultation with his Intelligence-approved lawyer, Collaery. McBride went to the police. Boyle lodged an internal disclosure. In each case, they were sidelined or ignored.

In desperation, they spoke up. But for these principled people, we might never have known about the misdeeds – potentially illegal, or, at the very least, improper – done in our name. It is only thanks to Collaery, Witness K, McBride and Boyle that we can demand corrective action and take steps to ensure they are never repeated.

We should be praising these whistleblowers. Instead, the Morrison government is prosecuting them. Orwellian? Kafkaesque? Take your pick.

Whether or not Collaery, McBride or Boyle succeed in their defences (Witness K has indicated a willingness to enter a plea of guilty to a single charge of breaching the Intelligence Services Act, subject to a plea bargain), the chilling effect of the prosecutions is severe. What potential whistleblower – having seen the reality faced by the current quartet – would accept these risks and speak up? Staring down the barrel of psychological trauma, professional ruin and financial oblivion, how many prospective truth-tellers will stay silent?

What wrongdoing might be occurring right now that Australians will never know about, because those who witnessed it remain mute? The cost of courage has become too high a price to pay.

It did not have to be like this. In 2013, the Labor government introduced protections for public servant whistleblowers. The Public Interest Disclosure (PID) Act provided a comprehensive regime for the disclosure and investigation of wrongdoing and protections for those who speak up. But while on paper the law was a step in the right direction, it has proven ineffective in practice – no more than a cardboard shield.

In 2016, an independent review by Philip Moss found that “the experience of whistleblowers under the PID Act is not a happy one”. Last year, a Federal Court judge lambasted the law as “technical, obtuse and intractable” and “largely impenetrable”.

On Wednesday, Attorney-General Christian Porter announced that the government was accepting, in part or in whole, 30 of the 33 recommendations made by Moss. This is welcome news, but it is long overdue. Porter and his colleagues have sat on this reform for four and a half years. In the meantime, homes have been raided, charges laid against whistleblowers and secretive trials commenced.

The Attorney-General must reform the PID Act as a matter of urgency. In the government’s official response, it flagged that it intends to go further than the Moss review. This is welcome, although the devil will be in the detail – detail which, for now, remains absent. If Porter is serious about promoting transparency and probity within our democracy, he should commit to legislating stronger protections for government whistleblowers in early 2021. Wednesday’s announcement is a positive step, yet until these changes become law, whistleblowers will continue to suffer.

Recent amendments to the laws protecting Australia’s private sector whistleblowers only underscore Porter’s inaction on public sector reform. Currently, those exposing corporate corruption are better protected than those exposing government misfeasance. That cannot be right. Public servants who speak up deserve protections equal to their private sector counterparts.

Meanwhile, the government has doubled-down on secrecy laws to penalise unauthorised disclosure of official information. It terminates the employment of public servants who dare criticise it online and cuts funding to accountability agencies that were established to keep the government in check. Our freedom of information regime is in tatters. Collectively, these measures guarantee a culture of silence within our public service and make external oversight even harder.

Australia was once a world leader in the field of whistleblower protections. When the first whistleblowing laws were introduced in this country, in 1993, the United States was the only jurisdiction with comparable protections. But as nations across the globe have found innovative ways to protect and empower whistleblowers, Australia has lagged behind. We have failed to shake off the words of a former police commissioner, who once observed that “nobody in Australia much likes whistleblowers”.

Yet any one of us could become a whistleblower. I have met dozens of individuals who have spoken up against wrongdoing. Almost unanimously, they say: “I did not intend to become a whistleblower.”

Many shun the label entirely. They are simply people who did what they believed was right – people who saw cruelty, corruption or abuse of power, and felt morally compelled to do something about it. In their shoes, would we not all hope for the courage to do the same?

Whistleblowers perform a vital democratic function in Australia. They are the canary in the coalmine that is Australian democracy. We must hear their call, not lock them up. The government’s recently-announced commitment to reform the PID Act is welcome, but actions speak louder than words.

Kieran Pender is a senior lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, and leads the centre’s work on whistleblower protections.

100 years of PEN International: A series of podcasts with Arnold Zable, produced by ABC Radio National

You are not alone – 100 years of PEN International

A series of podcasts produced by ABC Radio National

Writers go to prison for the courageous pursuit of their craft and PEN has been working for decades to get them out.  In this six part series Melbourne writer Arnold Zable tells the story of PEN International – from its creation out of the scars of World War 1 to bring societies together through their literature, to its growing human rights work across the globe, protecting freedom of speech and supporting imprisoned writers.

Spread across two separate programs/podcast feeds this series celebrates the idea that literature has no frontiers.

The History Listen – The history of PEN International – Including the voices of Margaret Atwood, John Ralston Saul and many others it tells the story of PEN’s work through World War 2 to today.

On the radio Tues 7 Sept 11am or online now

The History Listen – The history of PEN in Australia – From advocating for asylum seeking writers detained on our own shores to sending letters to writers imprisoned around the world.

On the radio Tues 14 Sept 11am or online 10 Sept

Earshot – Uyghur poets – Writers are disappearing into Chinese run detention camps – On the radio Sat 18 Sept 2pm or online Tues 14 Sept

Earshot – Ma Thida – Writer, meditator and prisoner of conscience in Myanmar – On the radio Sat 25 Sept 2pm or online Tues 21 Sept

Earshot – Stella Nyanzi – A Ugandan poet who dares to speak truth to power – On the radio Sat 2 Oct 2pm or online Tues 28 Sept

Earshot – Turkish writers – A country where free speech is gravely imperilled – On the radio Sat 9 Sept 2pm or online Tues 5 Sept

Afghanistan: ASRC Petition and WISA Fundraiser

Action is urgently needed.

Petition for more refugees.

The Asylum Seekers Resource Centre has a petition urging the government to accept more Afghan refugees, if you are interested to sign.

Donations for immediate food, blankets and tents

PEN Melbourne has links with WISA which is in partnership with Afghan Women’s Organisation Victoria, AWOV, and supports their fundraiser. They have a long history of supporting women in Afghanistan.

PEN Connections

300 words for truth

I dedicate my life’s work to all past and present Iranian writers and thinkers who have been imprisoned, tortured, executed and exiled.

We live in the age of new catastrophes. An exile’s life is about fighting against oppression in the country of birth, gaining knowledge, demanding justice and freedom for all the world’s people. Being an exile has taught me the true meaning of commitment, resoluteness and resistance of oppression and injustice.

Exile teaches you how to resist, stand up when you fall, again and again, and walk back. It teaches you how to look deeper. It shows you not to see things superficially. Exile is a unique mode of seeing and thinking and living and dying. It reminds you about the real benefits regarding your stance facing the injustices imposed on yourself and others.

To read the whole article, follow this link to the Overland website:

https://overland.org.au/previous-issues/issue-241/feature-300-words-for-truth/

You can also view Mammad’s presentation at the Wheeler Centre hosted by Sami Shah. It was recorded on Thursday, 14th March 2019 as one of the Writing in Exile series of lectures organised by PEN Melbourne.

https://www.wheelercentre.com/broadcasts/writing-in-exile-mammad-aidani

Mammad Aidani is a human rights advocate, poet, playwright, theatre director, and psychosocial researcher. In his research he investigates the violence, torture, trauma and suffering experienced by Iranian and Middle Eastern immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who have resettled in Australia and the West. Mammad is currently the vice president of PEN International Melbourne. He teaches Hermeneutics and Phenomenological philosophy at the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy. Mammad’s writings have been banned in Iran.

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A Letter to Australian and Western Artists

“It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.” — Albert Camus

In support of writers in prison in Iran and all exiled writers

 

Art is about telling truths. I believe that the artist’s role is to resist oppression and injustice in any society, to demand justice when he or she sees it and, with good conscience, expose it at any cost.

Australian artists and those involved in the arts who visit Iran to perform, participate and engage in artistic events need to know that their visits, online performances, and acts serve to legitimise and endorse the country’s oppressive Islamic regime. These artists should be conscious that it is impossible to hold any artistic event without official permission from the notorious Ministry of Culture and Religious Guidance — the Ministry is watching everything done by artists, writers, journalists, and intellectuals.  Over the last 43 years, its task has been to strictly scrutinise anything written, translated, performed and published by Iranians. In an Orwellian sense, it is the  Ministry of “thought control”.

The Iranian Islamic regime systematically abuses the human rights of its citizens. It arrests, interrogates,  imprisons, tortures, and  has executed artists, writers, and poets who have defied the censorship of their work and directly criticised the brutality and injustices the regime imposes on Iranian people. Artists who go to Iran to present their work are in danger of legitimising the Islamic regime’s oppression of the Iranian people over the last 43 years.

Perhaps the Australian artists who visit Iran (and who work online with Iranians inside Iran or accomplices of the regime abroad) do not know this. However, their Iranian friends here in Australia and other Western countries and their hosts inside Iran are well aware of the Islamic regime’s dictatorship and censorship in Iran. They know that no one can directly criticise the Iranian Islamic regime’s oppression and brutality inside or outside their county without being met by severe punishment. They are aware that artists can not freely express their thoughts and views in Iran, and most who have tried to do so find themselves silenced, exiled and worse.

History has shown us that oppressive regimes, threatened by the thought of their people seeking freedom, will stop at nothing to maintain absolute control over them. This is equally true of these regimes’ opportunistic apologists, justifiers and accomplices. Consequently, a true critic of the Iranian Islamic regime who lives outside Iran cannot visit the country and return safely to their country of residence.

It is essential for Australian and other Western artists, however well-intentioned, to inform themselves about the actual political situation in Iran if they are approached to collaborate on an art project in the country. When these invitations come from Iranians who, while living abroad, freely move between Iran and their country of residence, one should seriously wonder and enquire: how is it that these artists can freely move between Iran and their country of residence? How does the Iranian regime allow them to visit to perform their works and participate in arts projects in Iran and leave the country as they wish? Most importantly, how is it that the Iranian Islamic regime, with its inflexible censorship system under the brutal control of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Guidance, allows them to perform and exhibit their works in Iran while violently oppressing others.

Many Iranian artists have wholeheartedly and courageously demonstrated their commitment to truth-telling by actively defying and challenging the undemocratic Iranian  Islamic regime through their words and actions.  Artists and intellectuals could follow their lead to demonstrate their genuine care, respect and honour their sacrifices and actions.

Mammad Aidani

Human rights advocate, playwright and a Melbourne International PEN Committee Member

 

 

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Analogue Iran by Ali MC

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ICs6EKbBGs

In August and September 2019, documentary photographer Ali MC spent four weeks capturing the diversity of Iran through black and white 35mm film. The result is Analog Iran, an online exhibition which explores the diversity of a country that is often stereotyped in the media. From the border of Afghanistan to the bustling metropolis of Tehran, these photographs bring to life the everyday lives of Iranian people. Ali’s work shows the tension between the hospitality and graciousness of the Iranian people, and the constant political and economic pressures of daily life. Join us for this wonderful presentation of his stunning photographs, and tales of his travels through this amazing part of the world.