(NEW YORK)–PEN America today condemned the sentencing of Bilal Al-Saadi—the chairman of The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, Palestine—to six months of administrative detention without charge or trial, calling it a “serious” human rights violation.

“The arrest and imprisonment without trial of Bilal Al-Saadi represents a serious violation of his human rights, while the growing crackdown on Palestian civil society raises grave concerns about Palestinians’ rights to free expression and artistic freedom,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center. “If the Israeli government has grounds to detain Al-Saadi based on alleged criminal activity they must disclose them and allow him to defend himself.  Absent that, we urge the Israeli authorities to immediately release Al-Saadi and allow him to continue his work without restriction.”

Al-Saadi was arrested on Sept. 11 by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) while driving through the Za’atara military checkpoint. He was returning from a meeting with the Palestinian Cultural Minister in Ramallah when the arrest occurred. His detention comes in the wake of intensified action against Palestinian civil society, including arrests of human rights defenders and raids on and forced closure of the offices of seven organisations.

The Freedom Theatre was founded to teach acting to Palestinian children and teens, and to promote their free expression through storytelling. Created in 1990 by Arna Mer-Khamis—the mother of Juliano Mer Khamis, an Arab-Jewish actor assassinated in 2011 while serving as the theater’s artistic director—the institution has long served as a hub of Palestinian cultural life. During the height of the second intifada, the theater was closed and demolished by the IDF.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057

About the Artists at Risk Connection

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently released A Safety Guide For Artists, a resource that offers practical strategies to help artists understand, navigate, and overcome risk. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.