Writers' Organization Concludes Five-Day Mission Highlighted by Historic Public Declaration of Solidarity
MEXICO CITY, Jan. 30, 2012 /CNW/ - A delegation of PEN International today reiterated its call for "immediate and definitive action" to end the killings of journalists in Mexico. Calling the mounting death toll "an assault on the dignity and rights of all Mexicans and a blight on Mexico's reputation internationally," PEN International President John Ralston Saul declared, "Our message is simple: the violence must stop."
"The legal changes must be made," Saul insisted. "The corruption that links crime to public life must be attacked. A normal, stable society can be created with the right laws and the right commitment from those with the power to act."
Speaking at a press conference today in Mexico City at the end of an historic 5-day PEN International solidarity mission to Mexico, Saul said the 10-person delegation, representing the organization's global membership, met with the Attorney General's Deputy Minister, the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression, the President and members of the Senate, and members of the international diplomatic community. The group came away from its meetings with Mexican government officials "disappointed with the gap between rhetoric and action," he said, noting that there is a clear consensus on what needs to be done. "Making the murders of journalists a federal crime, equipping federal authorities to conduct real investigations, and empowering federal courts to hear these cases—everyone agrees with these things in principle, and there have been important steps toward implementing these plans. But where are the convictions?"
Moreover, Saul said, government officials frequently pointed to programs meant to protect journalists in the course of carrying out their work. "Yet the journalists we met are asking, 'Why don't we feel safer?'"
Journalists working in some of the country's most dangerous cities spoke of their experiences yesterday at PEN Protesta!, a remarkable event where these frontline reporters stood side-by-side with the PEN delegation and many of Mexico's most prominent writers to demand an end to the killings. In all, more than 50 writers and journalists read short statements that alternated between harrowing first-hand accounts of deadly threats and declarations of outrage and horror, sending a message of determination and solidarity that its organizers said they hoped would reverberate around the country.
"PEN Protesta! was important because it is the first protest of its kind," said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN Mexico. "It's the first time journalists and writers from Mexico and around the world have stood together to lift their voices against the violence in Mexico and the danger this holds for freedom and Mexico's emerging democracy."
Addressing the PEN Protesta! event yesterday, Clement spoke of the dehumanizing effect on all Mexican citizens, saying that the words censorship, impunity, persecution, are worn out from overuse. "If out of fear we no longer publish the news, we lose not only our democracy and freedom, but our history," she concluded.
In today's press conference, Hori Takeaki, International Secretary of PEN International, noted the unprecedented size of the PEN delegation, which included the entire executive of PEN International and representatives from all seven PEN centers in North America and the Japanese and English PEN centers. He called the historic mission "a clear, physical sign of the profound and urgent concern" with which writers from countries as distant as Japan view the situation of their Mexican colleagues.
That message was echoed in an open letter signed by 170 of the world's leading writers that appeared as a full-page ad in El Universal on Friday. "We stand with you and all Mexican citizens who are calling out for the killing, the impunity, the intimidation to stop," the writers declared. "You have an absolute right to life and a guaranteed right to practice your profession without fear."
At today's press conference, Saul said the delegation would be reporting to PEN's international membership on its findings and working to increase international pressure on Mexico to turn rhetoric into reality.
"Our presence in Mexico can be read in two ways," he said. "For our colleagues here, this delegation is the physical embodiment of the sense of solidarity the global community of writers feels with them, and our tremendous admiration for their courage. For the Mexican government, our presence should be seen as a sign of the terrible damage the killings of journalists is doing to Mexico's international standing.
"We will keep delivering both of these messages, louder and more persistently, until the killings stop," Saul concluded.
Background: Between 2000 and 2011, criminal organizations have murdered more than 67 journalists in Mexico. In recent months, these groups have killed 15 journalists, "disappeared" three, and attacked the facilities of 19 newspapers and media outlets with firearms and explosives, according to statistics released by the organization Article 19 in October 2011. As an international literary organization dedicated to the protection of writers and the defense of freedom of expression, PEN has condemned these killings and called for an end to impunity for those who carry out attacks on media workers in Mexico.
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