Saudi Arabia: Flogging of Raef Badawi for “founding a liberal website” goes ahead #FreeRaif

PEN International is outraged that Saudi Arabian authorities have today gone ahead with the flogging of Raef Badawi for “insulting Islam” and for “founding a liberal website”. Badawi will receive 50 lashes each Friday following morning prayers until he has received 1,000 lashes. 

PEN is calling for his sentence of flogging to be overturned immediately as it violates the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. PEN International reiterates its calls for Badawi’s conviction to be quashed and for his immediate and unconditional release.



Send a Letter to Raef Badawi’s Family 

Please send a letter of support to Raef Badawi and his family. Letters will be forwarded to Badawi’s family on his behalf. We’ve included a sample letter below as a starting point, but strongly encourage you to personalise your message before submitting.


Letter from PEN International President John Ralston Saul to Saudi Arabian Ambassador Mr. Naif bin bandar Al-Sudairi

Your Excellency,

I am writing you in regards to the situation of the Saudi Blogger, Raif Badawi.

I am International President of PEN International, which brings together some 25,000 writers in 100 countries, including most of the Islamic countries.

As it happens, I am also Canadian and the family of Mr. Raif Badawi also lives in Canada.

I’ve just learned that the sentence condemning Mr. Badawi includes, among other things, 1000 lashes, slated to begin tomorrow with a first round of 50 lashes.

Mr. Badawi’s activities have been entirely peaceful. By international standards he has not done anything which would justify his imprisonment. And certainly such an extreme sentence as 1000 lashes must be considered inhuman and unacceptable.

I am writing to you urgently in the hope that you will be able to convey the distress of the international writing community at the treatment planned for Mr. Badawi. Our clear feeling is that he should be released. However, as a first step we ask that this unacceptable, physical punishment be suspended. Flogging contravenes international law. It is certainly a punishment which cannot be considered acceptable by any normal ethical standards.

Yours faithfully,

John Ralston Saul

International President
PEN International

PEN Melbourne condemns attack on #CharlieHebdo

Melbourne PEN condemns the attack on French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. It offers its condolences and support to those who have been injured and the families and friends of those who have been killed.

Freedom of speech and expression is critical to having a fair, free and open society. The shootings at Charlie Hebdo today reinforce the importance of maintaining those principles and the commitment and bravery of those who work to maintain and protect them.

– PEN Melbourne Committee,
January 10, 2015

Iran: Prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh arrested

Nasrin Sotoudeh. Courtesy: PEN International.

Update: Nasrin Sotoudeh was released several hours after her arrest. 

The arrest of Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh on Human Rights day shows the continuing complete disregard of the Iranian authorities for freedom of expression, PEN International said today.

‘News of the re-arrest of Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was reportedly planning to attend a Human Rights Day gathering, is deeply disturbing,’ said Carles Torner, PEN International’s Executive Director.

‘We call on the Iranian authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally, and to lift the ban on her practising her profession so that she can return to her important activities defending the rights of others.’

Nasrin Sotoudeh was unexpectedly released in September 2013 after serving three years of a six year prison sentence.  However, the Iranian Bar Association suspended her license to practice for three years, which she has been campaigning to have lifted, including by staging daily demonstrations outside the Bar Association’s offices.  She was briefly arrested on 25 October 2014 after one of the demonstrations. Sotoudeh is an Honorary Member of PEN American Center.

Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan was also reportedly arrested today, but was released later.

– Via PEN International

Press Freedom vs Political Power

 PEN Melbourne Committee members Regina Hill and Cece Ojany. Courtesy: Wheeler Centre.
PEN Melbourne Committee members Regina Hill and Cece Ojany. Courtesy: Wheeler Centre.

PEN Melbourne, the Wheeler Centre and the nonfictionLab at RMIT University host a panel of journalists, advocates and academics to discuss the implications of the Peter Greste and Alan Morison cases – and what we should do about them.

Hear from Mark Baker (Chief Executive Officer of the Melbourne Press Club), Cece Ojany (Writers-In-Prison Officer with PEN Melbourne) and Alexandra Wake (Lecturer in Journalism at RMIT University). Moderated by Regina Hill.

Peter Greste and Alan Morison are both Australian journalists who, with their colleagues, are subject to judicial action that challenges not only their own freedom but the fundamental principle of freedom of the press itself.

  Award-winning Australian foreign correspondent Peter Greste was   found guilty in June 2014 by an Egyptian court of spreading false news and supporting the blacklisted Muslim brotherhood.
Award-winning Australian foreign correspondent Peter Greste was  found guilty in June 2014 by an Egyptian court of spreading false news and supporting the blacklisted Muslim brotherhood.
  Australian journalist Alan Morison and colleague Chutima Sidasathian are facing lengthy jail-terms in Thailand for reprinting part of a controversial but award winning article on the country's people-smuggling trade.
Australian journalist Alan Morison and colleague Chutima Sidasathian are facing lengthy jail-terms in Thailand for reprinting part of a controversial but award winning article on the country’s people-smuggling trade.

Our world is becoming more and more subject to political propaganda and spin; influenced by short media cycles and social media. A free and critical media is arguably more important now than ever. What do the Peter Greste and Alan Morison cases tell us about the state of our media, the value that we place on freedom of the press – and the role that we each have in defending those fundamental rights?

Click here to watch a video of the event (external site).


PEN Melbourne – Free Al Jazeera staff detained in Egypt #FreeAJStaff

PEN Melbourne is appalled by the terrible news that Australian journalist Peter Greste has been sentenced to seven years in an Egyptian prison after being found guilty by an Egyptian court of spreading ‘false news’ and supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood. We join with many other human rights organisations around the world to condemn this decision, which appears to have been made in the absence of credible evidence that would support the charges made against Greste and his Al Jazeera colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed.

PEN Melbourne calls for the reversal of this cruel decision on behalf of our fellow writers, journalists who have already been punished by being imprisoned unjustly for over six months for the peaceful exercise of their profession as reporters, and their right to free expression. We call upon the Egyptian authorities to release the three journalists immediately and unconditionally. PEN Melbourne is one of 145 PEN centres around the world; PEN centres are voices for literature and freedom of expression in their respective countries, supported by PEN International.


Please also see below, an open letter that Peter Greste sent from Tora Prison in February:


I am nervous as I write this. I am in my cold prison cell after my first official exercise session – four glorious hours in the grass yard behind our block and I don’t want that right to be snatched away.

I’ve been locked in my cell 24 hours a day for the past 10 days, allowed out only for visits to the prosecutor for questioning, so the chance for a walk in the weak winter sunshine is precious.

So too are the books on history, Arabic and fiction that my neighbours have passed to me, and the pad and pen I now write with.

I want to cling to these tiny joys and avoid anything that might move the prison authorities to punitively withdraw them. I want to protect them almost as much as I want my freedom back.

That is why I have sought, until now, to fight my imprisonment quietly from within, to make the authorities understand that this is all a terrible mistake, that I’ve been caught in the middle of a political struggle that is not my own. But after two weeks in prison it is now clear that this is a dangerous decision. It validates an attack not just on me and my two colleagues but on freedom of speech across Egypt.

All of a sudden, my books seem rather petty. I had been in Cairo only two weeks before interior ministry agents burst through the door of my hotel room, that of my colleague and producer Mohamed Fahmy, and into the home of Al Jazeera’s second producer Baher Mohamed.

Accuracy, fairness, and balance

We had been doing exactly as any responsible, professional journalist would – recording and trying to make sense of the unfolding events with all the accuracy, fairness and balance that our imperfect trade demands.

Most of the time, it is not a difficult path to walk. But when the Egyptian government declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be “terrorist organisation”, it knocked the middle ground out of the discourse. When the other side, political or otherwise, is a “terrorist”, there is no neutral way. As George W. Bush loved to point out after 9/11, you are either with the government or with the terrorists. So, even talking to them becomes an act of treason, let alone broadcasting their news however benign.

The following day, the government fleshed out its definition of the term. Anyone caught handing out Muslim Brotherhood leaflets, or simply participating in protest marches against the government could be arrested and imprisoned for “spreading terrorist ideology”.

The Muslim Brotherhood has lost much of the support and credibility once had when its political leader Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president just over a year and a half ago. And many here hold it responsible for a growing wave of islamist violence, but it remains the single largest and best organised social and political force in Egypt. What then for a journalist striving for “balance, fairness and accuracy?” How do you accurately and fairly report on Egypt’s ongoing political struggle without talking to everyone involved?

I worried about this at the time with Mohamed Fahmy, but we decided that the choice was obvious – as obvious as the price we are now paying for making it.

The three of us have been accused of collaborating with a terrorist organisation [the Muslim Brotherhood], of hosting Muslim Brotherhood meetings in our hotel rooms, of using unlicensed equipments to deliberately broadcast false information to further their aims and defame and discredit the Egyptian state.

The state has presented no evidence to support the allegations, and we have not been formally charged with any crime. But the prosecutor general has just extended our initial 15-day detention by another 15 days to give investigators more time to find something. He can do this indefinitely – one of my prison mates has been behind bars for 6 months without a single charge.

“The prisons are overflowing”

I am in Tora prison – a sprawling complex in the south of the city where the authorities routinely violate legally enshrined prisoners’ rights, denying visits from lawyers, keeping cells locked for 20 hours a day (and 24 hours on public holidays) and so on. But even that is relatively benign compared to the conditions my colleagues are being held in.

Fahmy and Baher have been accused of being Muslim Brotherhood members, So they are being held in the far more draconian “Scorpion prison” built for convicted terrorists. Fahmy has been denied the hospital treatment he badly needs for a shoulder injury he sustained shortly before our arrest. Both men spend 24 hours a day in their mosquito-infested cells, sleeping on the floor with no books or writing materials to break the soul- destroying tedium. Remember we have not been formally charged, much less convicted of any crime. But this is not just about three Al Jazeera journalists. Our arrest and continued detention sends a clear and unequivocal message to all journalists covering Egypt, both foreign and local.

The state will not tolerate hearing from the Muslim Brotherhood or any other critical voices. The prisons are overflowing with anyone who opposes or challenges the government. Secular activists are sentenced to three years with hard labour for violating protest laws after declining an invitation to openly support the government; campaigners putting up “No” banners ahead of the constitutional referendum are summarily detained.

Anyone, in short, who refuses to applaud the institution. So our arrest is not a mistake, and as a journalist this IS my battle. I can no longer pretend it’ll go away by keeping quiet and crossing my fingers. I have no particular fight with the Egyptian government, just as I have no interest in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or any other group here. But as a journalist I am committed to defending a fundamental freedom of the press that no one in my profession can credibly work without. One that is deemed vital to the proper functioning of any open democracy, including Egypt’s with its new constitution.

Of course we will continue to fight this from inside prison and through the judicial system here. But our freedom, and more importantly the freedom of the press here, will not come without loud sustained pressure from human rights and civil society groups, individuals and governments who understand that Egypt stability depends as much as on its ability to hold open honest conversations among its people and the world, as it does on its ability to crush violence.

We know it is already happening, and all of us are both moved and strengthened by the extraordinary support we have already had, but it needs to continue.

Peter Greste
Tora prison


You can voice your protest at the jailing of Peter Greste and his colleagues by writing to:

The Hon. Ambassador Mr Khaled Rizk
Consul General of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Level 6, 50 Market Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Egypt: Al-Jazeera journalists must be released (PEN International)

 Al-Jazeera correspondents Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammad.
Al-Jazeera correspondents Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammad.

Harsh prison sentences handed down today to three Al-Jazeera (English) journalists must be overturned and the journalists freed immediately, PEN International said today.

Correspondent Peter Greste, and producers Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed were sentenced to seven, seven and ten years respectively on charges of having links to a “terrorist organisation” and “spreading false news”.

PEN International believes that their arrest and imprisonment is part of an escalating crackdown on dissent in Egypt, in which journalists, writers, civil rights activists, and independent or critical voices are amongst those targeted for their reporting or peaceful activism.

These sentences signal a death knell for freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary in Egypt” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

The international community must respond swiftly, not only on behalf of foreign journalists, but on behalf of the citizens of Egypt, for whom democracy is in grave danger.”

Al Jazeera correspondent Peter Greste, an Australian national, Mohammed Fahmy, who has dual Canadian and Egyptian nationality, and Egyptian national Baher Mohamed were arrested on 29 December 2013 following Interior Ministry accusations of illegally broadcasting from a hotel suite.

Peter Greste, who has worked for the BBC, is accused of collaborating with “terrorists” by talking to Muslim Brotherhood members. Al-Jazeera Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed are accused of the more serious offence of membership of the Brotherhood.

Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based TV channel, has said the men were merely reporting the situation in Egypt. Since 25 December 2013 the Egyptian authorities have labelled the Muslim Brotherhood – the political group that the Al-Jazeera journalists are accused of supporting- as a terrorist group.

According to diplomats and rights campaigners who observed the trial, no credible evidence was put forward to support the verdict. The three journalists are planning to appeal their convictions.

PEN calls on Egypt’s interim government to immediately and unconditionally release all those held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in accordance with the international treaties to which it is bound.

Spotlight on linguistic rights on International Mother Language Day

Each year, 21 February marks International Mother Language Day, a day which recognizes the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity and promotes the protection of languages. PEN International has long recognised the vital role that language plays in identity, communications, social integration, education and development.

It is estimated that without measures to protect and promote minority and endangered languages, half of the 6000-plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century, with 96 per cent of these languages spoken by a mere 4 per cent of the world’s population. Twenty-nine per cent of the world’s languages are in danger, with a further 10 per cent vulnerable, according to UNESCO.

PEN International has been at the forefront of the campaign to ensure the protection and promotion of linguistic diversity. The Girona Manifesto, a tool to aid the dissemination and implementation of the Universal Declaration on Linguistic Rights (UDLR), was developed by PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee in May 2011, 15 years after leading a coalition of civil-society and international organisations (including UNESCO) developed the UDLR at the 1996 World Conference on Linguistic Rights in Barcelona.

PEN International is currently expanding the scope of its work with regards to Linguistic Rights, and is the recipient of a major grant from UNESCO for a major new research and capacity building programme, working with PEN Centres in Kenya, Serbia, Haiti and Nigeria to strengthen the minority language creative publishing industries in these countries.

Through The Writers in Prison Committee  PEN International actively monitors and campaigns on cases of individual writers at risk from minority language communities who face oppression for their writing and for the use of their own language.  This year, for International Mother Language Day, PEN International is campaigning for the immediate and unconditional release of Nurmuhemmet Yasin, a member of the Uyghur minority in China, imprisoned in connection with a short story he wrote in Uyghur.

Through campaigns, projects and events, PEN International works with Centres around the world to highlight the importance of reading and writing as tools for the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, as well as for global peace-building, cultural dialogue and development.

Via PEN International