In recent years, PEN Canada has become increasingly active on domestic freedom of expression issues. But we are reminded, with regrettable frequency, of the parlous state of freedom of expression in many other parts of the world, and our responsibility to speak out and take action when people in other countries are victims of repression.
Lately we have been preoccupied at PEN Canada with two egregious examples of repression elsewhere. One, of course, is the appalling punishment meted out by an Egyptian court in June to three Al Jazeera journalists – Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed – who did nothing more than report the news. The trumped-up charges, farcical trial, and draconian penalties handed down in this case are an affront to anyone anywhere who values liberty and freedom of the press. In the long run, this incident will severely and rightfully damage the reputation and standing of the Egyptian state. In the short run, we must all do what we can to obtain the release of the three unjustly convicted journalists.
Another unacceptable limitation on freedom of expression is legislation in the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, pending as I write, that would criminalize “homosexual propaganda.” The draft Kyrgyzstan laws impose criminal sanctions on mass media and others that are found to “create a positive attitude toward nontraditional sexual relations.” They appear to be modeled on similar and recent legislation in the Russian Federation. The 2014 PEN International Congress will take place at the beginning of October in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. PEN Canada has been working with PEN colleagues around the world to prepare a resolution disapproving of the proposed Kyrgyzstan legislation, and similar laws in other countries, and calling for their reconsideration and repeal. PEN Canada will present this resolution to the Bishkek Congress, continuing its tradition of robust worldwide involvement in freedom of expression issues.
President, PEN Canada