(New York, NY) – PEN America today said the Washington Post needs to fully explain its suspension of journalist Felicia Sonmez for tweets she posted after the news of Kobe Bryant’s death. The Washington Post’s concerns over the tweets, reportedly, were that Sonmez’s comments did not pertain to her “coverage area”, and that Sonmez’s “behavior on social media is making it harder for others to do their work as Washington Post journalists.”

“The Washington Post should clarify the reasons for Sonmez’s suspension and for their mandate that Sonmez delete her tweets,” said Nora Benavidez, director of U.S. free expression programs for PEN America. “It’s hard to see how a journalist posting a factual news story could be grounds for suspension. Further, decisions like these—to compel a journalist to remove her posts and then to suspend her while she is facing a deluge of online abuse—risk sending exactly the wrong message to online trolls, who will conclude that systemic harassment of journalists is in fact effective at getting content removed or reporters silenced.  

“Journalists undergoing vicious harassment online need the support of their employers in order to withstand abuse and have the fortitude to continue their work. No matter what prompted the suspension, the Post should support journalists whose jobs are already made more difficult—and their well-being threatened—by the scourge of online harassment.”

PEN America works extensively on the issue of online harassment of journalists, partnering with newsrooms to equip their staffs with strategies to prepare and respond.  A national leader on this issue, PEN America published a digital toolkit, the Online Harassment Field Manual, offering writers and journalists guidance on defending against online harassment.

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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.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892