PEN Canada launches Freedom to Write in the Americas



    TORONTO, May 1 /CNW/ - Paul Auster, Yann Martel, Junot Diaz and Derek
Walcott are among more than 50 eminent authors who have signed a declaration
supporting International PEN's Freedom to Write in the Americas campaign.
Launched on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, the campaign will highlight the
violence and impunity which overshadows the working lives of writers and
journalists throughout the region.
    Freedom to Write in the Americas will focus on Mexico, Cuba and
Venezuela, but also monitor developments in Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua. It
will promote free expression in each country and provide direct support to
writers whose work is carried out under the threat of repression and
censorship. The campaign is a joint undertaking of 29 regional PEN Centres and
will be coordinated by International PEN.
    In recent years the Americas have become some of the most dangerous
territory in the world for working journalists. Between January 2004 and
December 2008, 37 writers and print journalists were murdered and four others
forcibly disappeared. In 2008, according to International PEN's Writers in
Prison Committee (WIPC) information, there were at least 191 attacks against
writers and journalists in the Americas, all but seven of them occurring
within Latin America. In Mexico alone there were seven killings and one forced
disappearance; across the region there were 30 imprisonments (25 in Cuba), 44
physical attacks, 35 death threats and 35 other types of threat or harassment.
    In many cases it is clear that these writers were targeted for their
work. Throughout the Americas there is evidence that reporters who are
critical of the authorities or criminal gangs are frequently threatened and
occasionally attacked and murdered for what they publish. All too often their
attackers escape justice and official investigations of their cases lapse into
silence and impunity
    Although this situation may appear daunting, the WIPC draws hope from the
fact that for decades it has successfully campaigned on behalf of Latin
American writers such as Maria Elena Cruz Varela (Cuba), Myrna Mack Chang
(Guatemala), Brigadier General José Gallardo Rodriguez (Mexico), Yehude Simon
Munaro (Peru) and Lydia Cacho (Mexico).
    PEN provided direct support to Yehude Simon Munaro, a writer and
politician who was imprisoned between 1992 and 2000 on false terrorism
charges. After his release Munaro wrote to PEN: "The life of a prisoner is
hard and desperate, even more so when the victim is innocent. I do not know
what I would have done without your oceanic solidarity." In October 2008
Munaro became Prime Minister of Peru.
    In this same spirit of solidarity, PEN Canada launches Freedom to write
in the Americas.
    Freedom to write in the Americas will be primarily web- and email based,
and will offer suggestions for actions and other materials in both Spanish and
English at
http://www.internationalpen.org.uk/go/freedom-of-expression/campaigns. The
website will be regularly updated with new information and campaigning tools.

    Background

    PEN Canada is the Canadian centre of International PEN, the association
of writers with over 15,000 members in 102 countries. PEN promotes friendship
and intellectual co-operation among writers and campaigns for freedom of
expression everywhere.

    
    Summary of concerns in key campaign countries:

    -   Cuba: As of early 2009, there are at least 25 writers, independent
        journalists and librarians in prison in Cuba. All are serving lengthy
        prison sentences - up to 27 years - on anti-state or 'social
        dangerousness' charges in relation to their work. Most are in poor
        health but have limited access to adequate medical treatment.

    -   Colombia: In 2008, the WIPC recorded 14 attacks against writers in
        Colombia, most of them print journalists. Death threats were common.
        Three writers were on trial for criminal defamation, two of them for
        reports linking powerful individuals with drugs trafficking.

    -   Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as
        a print journalist. From 2004 to 2008, 20 writers - 19 journalists
        and one author - were murdered and four more disappeared. 2008 saw an
        alarming escalation in attacks, including seven killings and two
        imprisonments.

    -   Nicaragua: Although the press is still free in Nicaragua, there are
        concerns that President Ortega's second administration is becoming
        increasingly authoritarian and repressive of dissent. In particular,
        Ortega is accused of persecuting revolutionary figures turned
        critics.

    -   Peru: Writers in Peru, particularly print journalists, frequently
        come under threat, with 25 attacks recorded in 2008. Death threats
        were particularly common. Five journalists were on trial for criminal
        defamation and one young poet for affiliation with a terrorist group.

    -   Venezuela: Practising journalism in Venezuela has become increasingly
        hazardous in recent years, with attacks on print journalists rising
        by 50 per cent, from 13 incidents recorded in 2007 to 19 in 2008.
        Physical assaults in particular rose. Another serious concern is that
        the Venezuelan government is reportedly imposing controls on the
        importation of foreign books in the name of protecting national
        industry.
    





For further information:

For further information: Brendan de Caires, bdecaires@pencanada, tel.
(416) 703-8448 x 21


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