World Press Freedom Day
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
To mark this year’s May 3rd World Press Freedom Day, PEN is focusing on three cases of attacks on writers and journalists who use the internet. Details of each of these cases are given below. Writers around the world will be asked to send appeals to those governments to end the abuses against internet activism.
This action is part of PEN’s year-long campaign highlighting the dangers that cyber-dissidents face world wide that was launched on December 10, 2004 with a focus on Asia, followed on March 8, 2005 Women’s Day on female cyber-dissidents in China, Iran and Tunisia. A written submission from the organization to this year’s session United Nations Commission on Human Rights in March/April highlighted the alleged torture of a group of internet dissidents in Iran. The campaign will culminate in November 2005 with the World Summit on Information Society to be held in Tunisia.
In recent years there has been a global rise in attacks against writers and journalists who have turned to “cyber dissent” as means of circumventing censorship under repressive regimes. As International PEN, the world association of writers, has observed, the internet has become the samizdat of the 21st century.
In 2004 the writers’ organisation monitored over 80 attacks against writers and journalists in sixteen countries who had used the internet to get around censorship. Under-reporting means that this figure is likely to be higher. These reports include long term imprisonment, arrests, harassment, threats, court hearings and, in Kazakhstan, a murder that may have been linked to the journalist’s internet writings.
The People’s Republic of China is most intolerant of its internet dissenters, and accounted for a third of the total attacks recorded by PEN. Last year it had in prison 27 writers and journalists who had published material on independent web-sites. These ranged from articles alleging official corruption and calling for economic reforms, to essays on the banned Falun Gong sect. Vietnamese writers who turn to the internet are also imprisoned. In 2004, seven were detained, and others harassed. Like their counterparts in China, these writers are being penalised for articles calling for political reform, including the lifting of repression on freedom of information and reporting on human rights abuses. Incredibly heavy sentences of up to 13 years in prison have been passed against them. Iranian cyber-dissidents are also under heavy scrutiny. Last year International PEN learned of 14 incidents of attacks. In most cases, the individuals were held for relatively brief periods, but they were accompanied by reports of ill-treatment and even torture. Most notably the case in late 2004 of a group of activists who subsequently issued complaints of abuse while they were under interrogation. Such harassment and ill-treatment serves as a sharp warning against others who consider speaking out through any media.
Other countries that hold internet writers in prison include the Maldives (four persons), Cuba (nine persons), and Syria (six persons). It is extraordinary that so many states should consider the internet so dangerous that those that use it are imprisoned. At the same time these same states are preparing themselves to attend the World Summit on Information Society which will be held in November this year in Tunisia. Tunisia itself has been condemned for its own repression of internet activism . By so doing, these States ignore the WSIS Declaration of Principles which says: “we reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; …..It is central to the Information Society.”
For more on International PEN’s Statement to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on Iran, go to: www.pen.org/media/UN_Iran_submission2005.pdf
Democratic Republic of Congo: Tshivis Tshiviuadi and Donat M’baya Tshimanga
The internet is a key tool for disseminating information on attacks on human rights, particularly in countries where these rights are threatened. Organizations campaigning for freedom of expression are increasingly reliant on the internet as a means of getting news out to the world quickly and to a world-wide audience. An organization that has used this tool to its greatest potential is Journaliste en Danger (Journalists in Danger – JED), in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). PEN is increasingly concerned for the safety of JED staff as it learns of death threats in recent weeks.
On April 4, Tshivis Tshiviuadi and Donat M’baya Tshimanga, Secretary-General and President respectively of JED received death threats against themselves and their families. An email addressed to the Tshiviuadi, signed by “Commander Mbonge Munene” (meaning “Violent Wind”), said:
“We have been watching you for a long time in the hope that you were going to change but no, you continue to betray the fatherland. Be aware that the fatherland you are selling out will sooner or later overcome and the traitors will deserve nothing but death and the rotting of their bodies. Your children and your grandchildren will pay for all the harm you have caused the nation.” (For the text of the threat, click: www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=13102)
This latest threat against the press freedom defenders is part of a pattern of intimidation over the past year. For example, in an article in the Kinshasa-based newspaper Le Grognon entitled “Is JED endangering the Congo?”, JED was severely criticised for trying to stop the harassment of eleven journalists who had interviewed Rwandan authorities on the armed conflict in eastern DRC. In December, after JED had challenged the public TV station , RTNC for allowing extremist comments to be broadcast, JED itself was attacked on air. The following day Tshimanga”s wife received a threatening anonymous phone call. This type of public denunciations create a climate which can lead others to believe that they can attack JED and its staff with impunity.
JED was formed in 1998 during the regime of former president Laurent Kabila and provides legal and practical help to journalists who are in danger in a country where reporters regularly face violence, harassment and imprisonment. The organisation also campaigns for government reforms and plays a crucial role in informing the international human rights community of cases where journalists are persecuted solely as a result of exercising their right to the freedom of expression. See the JED website http://www.jed-afrique.org. For a special report on work of JED, visit the Committee to Protect Journalists website http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2004/DA_fall04/JED/JED.html. With the first free elections since the DRC’s independence in 1960 due to take place in June 2005, the work of JED remains of crucial importance and it is essential that the organisation is able to benefit from the protection of the government whilst it continues to carry out its work. International PEN therefore urges the governmental authorities in the DRC to ensure that the threats against JED are thoroughly investigated as a matter of urgency and that those accountable are brought to justice. Appeals may be sent to the authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo calling for an investigation into the threats against JED staff and that those accountable are brought to justice.
Appeals to be sent to: H. E. Major-General Joseph Kabila, President of the Republic and Head of State, Palais de la Nation, Kinshasa/Gombé, Democratic of the Republic of the Congo. Fax: c/o DRC Embassy in USA +1 202 234 2609.
Tunisia: Mohammed Abbou
Tunisian Internet writer Mohammed Abbou was arrested in March this year for an article published on the internet nine months earlier that denounced torture in Tunisia. PEN is calling on the Tunisian government to release Mohammed Abbou, and to allow all writers and journalists in Tunisia their fundamental right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. PEN is perturbed that Tunisia should be holding prisoner Mohammed Abbou just months before the Tunisian government is to host the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS). In November governments, inter governmental and non-governmental organizations, internet service providers and others will gather to debate the digital revolution and ways to address the “digital divide.” The WSIS Declaration of Principles specifically refers to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, that guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The arrest of Mohammed Abbou shows the host of the Summit to be in complete disregard of the summit’s principles.
Following his arrest on March 1, Mohammed Abbou, who is a member of the National Council for Freedom in Tunisia (Conseil National pour les Libertés en Tunisie CNLT), was taken on April 9 to a prison in Tunis. He has been charged with “publishing false reports,” “insulting the judiciary,” “inciting people to break the law,” and “publishing offences” for an article which he had written and posted on the Tunisnews website in August 2004 www.tunisnews.net. The article reportedly compared torture committed against political prisoners in Tunisia to abuses carried out by US soldiers in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. According to reports, Abbou faces a prison term of ten years.
Earlier this year, on February 28, Mohammed Abbou had posted an article on Tunisnews in which he ironically compared Tunisian President Ben Ali to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon . It is thought that his recent arrest is linked to the publication of this article. Several hundred lawyers reportedly gathered at the Palais de Justice on the day following Abbou’s arrest to protest. The wife of one of the lawyers, who had joined the protest, is said to have been physically assaulted by plain-clothed police officers. Mohammed Abbou has himself been denied access to legal counsel.
Appeals may be sent calling upon the Tunisian authorities to stand by Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, and to release Mohammed Abbou immediately and unconditionally. Appeals to be sent to: Président Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Président de la République, Palais Présidentiel, Tunis, Tunisie, Fax: +216 71 744 721
Vietnam: Dr. Pham Hong Son
Dr. Pham Hong Son is serving a five-year prison sentence for his on-line writings. PEN is calling on the Vietnamese authorities to release Pham Hong Son from detention and quash the sentence against him. It believes Pham’s online activities were in accordance with his internationally recognized right to freedom of expression and in no way constituted a “crime.”
Dr. Pham Hong Son is one of Vietnam’s most prominent jailed cyber-dissidents. He was arrested from his Hanoi home on March 27, 2002, a few weeks after translating into Vietnamese an article called “What is Democracy” which he downloaded from the local U.S. embassy web-site. He apparently forwarded his translation to several friends and to certain senior Communist Party officials. Up until his arrest, Pham had been in his own right a prolific online writer of articles about democracy and human rights.
On June 18, 2003, Pham was convicted to 13 years in prison for alleged “spying.” Diplomats who requested permission to attend the trial were refused entry. His wife was also barred from the courtroom other than when she was briefly called in to testify. The news agency Reuters reported that the pavements outside the courts were barricaded and that police were posted to turn away foreign journalists and others attempting to attend the hearing. Pham was sentenced under article 80 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for communicating with “political opportunists” in Vietnam and abroad. His indictment claims that he “became a follower of the action plan to take advantage of freedom and democracy to advocate pluralism and a multiparty system in order to oppose the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” It adds that he collected “materials with content denigrating and distorting the policy of the Party and the State” for distribution “to exile reactionary person for them to falsely accuse the State of violating human rights.” The sentence was reduced on appeal the following August to five years’ imprisonment and three years’ house arrest.
Aged 36, Pham Hong Son is a medical doctor by training, graduating from Hanoi Medical University in 1992. In 1997 he joined the pharmaceutical industry, and went on to become marketing executive of Tradewind Asia Pharmaceuticals. However, in 2001, he dedicated himself to his pro-reformist activities. He wrote and translated articles arguing for a peaceful transition of Vietnam towards democracy and a multi-party system. He posted these on various web-sites, many of them based abroad.
Letters on his behalf can be sent to: His Excellency Tran Duc Luong, President, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, C/O Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hanoi, The Socialist Republic of Vietnam