Fri, 27/10/2017 - 10:33


Refuge. Hundreds of writers and journalists around the world are persecuted for what they write. Some are forced to flee their countries of origin and seek protection abroad.

Hundreds of writers and journalists around the world are persecuted because of what they write. Many of them are intimidated, surrounded, threatened or detained. Some of them are forced to flee their countries of origin and seek protection abroad. Some are murdered. Given this situation, for the last four years, on 2 November, the UN has held the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. For its part, every year on 15 November the PEN International holds the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. The occasion was first marked in 1981 and aims to raise awareness and offer support for all victims of the repression of freedom of expression.


Various reports on the state of freedom of expression in the world point out that it is a right which is greatly threatened and that repression affects numerous victims in many countries around the planet. The violence suffered by writers and journalists in order to gag them and silence them takes many different forms, such as sackings, closure of media channels, threats, arbitrary arrests, lengthy detentions without hearings, trumped-up accusations and even death or disappearance.

Experts warn that forcing writers into exile is a repressive tactic which is increasingly used by authoritarian governments. The writer and translator Carme Arenas, chair of the Pen Català since 2010, explains that these forms of repression have become more sophisticated over time.

“These days there are many other threats besides prison. There are more refined forms of persecution, such as accusing them of defamation because of what they write on the internet. I also believe we’ve moved from censorship to the promotion of self-censorship, even in countries which call themselves democratic, like this one”, she denounces.

The biggest prison on the world

Since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a total of 1,258 reporters have died while carrying out their work. Of these, 810 were murdered, mainly, and in this order, in Iraq, Philippines, Algeria, Somalia, Colombia, Mexico, Russia, Brazil and Pakistan. The majority covered political affairs and corruption, followed by armed conflicts and information relating to criminality and human rights. Since the start of 2017, thirty journalists have been killed, ten of whom were murdered. Nearly half of those (4) were killed in Mexico.

While Mexico is currently the deadliest country for the exercise of freedom of speech and information, since last year Turkey has become the country with the most imprisoned journalists. The total exceeds the record of China and Eritrea put together, the two countries which head the black list by Reporters Without Borders in terms of press freedom.

“In the near hundred year old history of the PEN International, we’ve never seen so many writers in prison in one country at a given moment”, denounced the organisation in a statement in July.

The spotlight has been on Turkey since the failed military coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 15 July 2016. The situation was difficult before that, but has now worsened. Last year Turkey headed the list of countries with the most journalists under arrest: a total of 225, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which describes the country as the biggest prison for reporters in the world.

The situation is so serious that Amnesty International published the report ‘Journalism is not a Crime’ in May, warning about the risks faced by writers, journalists and academics criticising the government. According to data, at least 156 media channels have been shut down since July 2016, around 2,500 journalists and staff have lost their jobs and 778 reporters have had their media accreditation revoked.

“The severity of media repression goes so far that some have described is as ‘the death of journalism’”, notes the report.

The human rights organisation denounces the authorities in Ankara for using anti-terrorism legislation to go after journalists. The repression particularly targets the secular press, journalists focusing on the Kurdish issue and those who it accuses of supporting the cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former government ally now accused of being behind the uprising against Erdogan.

Abuse of Interpol

Writers and journalists are not just threatened within Turkey though. They are also pursued beyond its borders, even if they’ve fled the country and found protection abroad. This was demonstrated this summer in the case of Hamza Yalçin, who was held in custody for 56 day at the Can Brians prison in Barcelona after Spanish authorities responded to a Red Notice (an order for search, capture and extradition) filed by Turkey through Interpol.

At the end of September, Yalçin was able to return to Sweden when the Spanish government decided not to extradite him due to his status as a refugee.

“Hamza Yalçin is a refugee, but not just that, which is even more serious. Hamza is a Swedish citizen, a European citizen. That was the first major violation of rights”, complains Arenas, who helped the Swedish writer of Turkish origin, a member of the PEN, along with lawyers from Alerta Solidaria, who learned of the detention at El Prat airport on 3 August.

Many years after setting foot in his native country for the last time, where he fled from after receiving a life sentence, Yalçin was accused of having defamed President Erdogan in his writings. Like other exiled Turkish writers and journalists, he was safe in Europe until Interpol changed the way it filtered so-called Red Notices, which are now distributed to its 190 member countries without being checked first. It’s the countries themselves which must decide in each case whether they act on the request or not.

“These Red Notices are a means dictators have of reaching dissident voices abroad. States know they have no guarantee and pay no attention, but our authorities arrested him. That’s worrying for us. Spain is an ally of Turkey’s and there are many business and other ties”, insists Arenas.

Arenas is not the only one to denounce the abusive use of Interpol by the most repressive countries as they spread their tentacles around the world. The figures prove it: while 1,277 Red Notices were issued in 2002, last year that figure reached 10,718. The organisation Fair Trials, based in London, has been working for some time to get Interpol to change the way it works and guarantee that these search and capture orders are not used to repress dissident refugees around the world. According to their figures, besides Turkey, other countries which abuse the system include Russia, Belorussia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Venezuela.


Share this content