NEW YORK—The sentencing by an Israeli court of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour to a five month jail sentence for incitement is an unjust criminalization of free expression, PEN America said in a statement today.

Tatour, a poet and Palestinian citizen of Israel who has spent almost three years in jail or under house arrest since her initial arrest in October 2015, was convicted on May 3, 2018 on charges of incitement to violence and support for terrorist organizations for three posts on social media. The first post on YouTube was Tatour’s reading of her poem “Resist, My People, Resist Them,” accompanied by images of Palestinians clashing with Israeli security forces. At trial, the prosecutor attempted to prove that Tatour was not a legitimate poet, and engaged in debate over the translation of several passages of the poem from Arabic to Hebrew. The other two posts were also targeted in part for their use of particular words, specifically “intifada” and “shahid,” the Arabic word for martyr. With regard to both posts, the court relied on a narrow translation of these words to justify linking them to terrorism, neglecting their broader meaning and usage in relation to Palestinian solidarity and resistance. At the July 31 sentencing hearing, Tatour was sentenced to five months in prison (of a possible eight years), three months of which will be reduced due to time in prison already served.

“The prolonged detention and conviction of Dareen Tatour relied on the deliberate misinterpretation of her literary work, and reveals the arbitrary measures Israeli authorities will resort to in order to silence dissident voices,” said Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “It is clear that the government has used her case to demonstrate that it will not tolerate certain voices or opinions, which suggests an uneven application of the right to free expression as protected by the Israeli constitution. Poetry and the voicing of opinions online should not be considered a crime, and we condemn this conviction and sentence.”  

The digital policing of Palestinian voices is rampant in Israel, and Tatour is one of some 400 Palestinians who have been arrested for posts on social media since October 2015. Her case is one of a number of recent cases of administrative detention and legal charges brought against journalists and those who use social media to publish their writing, both within the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel, including the cases of Palestinian journalists Muhammed al-Qiq and Omar Nazzal.

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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. pen.org

CONTACT: 

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org