International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee will press the case of an Iranian writer and lawyer jailed for his crusade to win justice for the families of murdered writers in Iran when PEN’s preliminary findings on the problem of impunity are presented at a UNESCO conference marking World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2003. Concern over the failure of governments around the world to punish those responsible for hundreds of murders of journalists over the last decade led UNESCO to declare Impunity the theme of its annual World Press Freedom Day gathering, which is to take place this year in Kingston, Jamaica.

PEN Canada executive director Isobel Harry will present the case of Nasser Zarafshan, an Iranian lawyer, author, and translator who was tried in secret by a military court and sentenced in March 2002 to five years’ imprisonment and seventy lashes. At the time of his arrest, Zarafshan was serving as legal representative for the relatives of two writers and journalists who were assassinated in November 1998 during a wave of serial murders of writers and intellectuals in Iran, and he and a number of investigators had implicated state intelligence services in the killings. His prosecution was clearly intended to send a message. “Our brave colleague Zarafshan has been sentenced to five years of imprisonment and to flogging and we know why,” Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Mehrangiz Kar told Canadian reporters last year. “His only crime was to defend the families of the victims of the serial murders.”

Harry’s appearance at the UNESCO conference comes during a year-long PEN campaign to focus international attention on the problem of impunity. In addition to Zarafshan, whom PEN refers to as both a hero and a victim of the struggle to win justice for murdered writers and journalists, Harry will also discuss the cases of Edgar Damalerio, one of at least thirty-six journalists killed in the line of duty in the Philippines since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, and Gerardo Bedoya, one of scores of journalists whose killings remain unresolved in Colombia.

A leading voice internationally on behalf of writers jailed or persecuted in connection with their work, International PEN has grown increasingly alarmed by the tide of violence against journalists and writers around the world, a kind of censorship by the bullet that rarely results in arrests or prosecutions. PEN’s campaign to challenge impunity for violators of the right to freedom of expression was launched in November 2002 at the biennial meeting of the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. PEN Canada is leading the effort, in partnership with PEN American Center, Mexican PEN, and International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee. The campaign includes direct actions throughout the year and will culminate with the release of a PEN report on the problem of impunity and a series of public programs during International PEN’s 69th World Congress of Writers in Mexico City in November 2003.

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105