CHINA AND AUTONOMOUS REGIONS
The 2010 Nobel Peace Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, is a prominent dissident writer, and former President and Board member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre. Liu was arrested for signing Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reforms and human rights. Liu was held under Residential Surveillance, a form of pre-trial detention, at an undisclosed location in Beijing, until he was formally charged on 23 June 2009 with ‘spreading rumours and defaming the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialism system in recent years’ . The charge is said to be based on his endorsement of Charter 08 and over twenty articles published between 2001-2008. Liu was sentenced to an 11-year prison sentence on December 25, 2009.
The editor and journalist Eskinder Nega was arrested on September 14, 2011 on terrorism-related charges brought under 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Nega was arrested for publishing a column disputing the government’s claim that detained journalists were suspected terrorists, and for criticizing the arrest of well-known actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu. Nega was charged with having affiliations with Ginbot 7, a banned political party the government considers a terrorist group and receiving weapons and explosives from neighbouring Eritrea in order to carry out acts of terrorism in Ethiopia. Nega was convicted on June 27, 2012 and given an 18-year prison sentence on July 13, 2012. On May 2, 2013 the Ethiopian Supreme Court upheld the conviction charges in a ruling PEN International and other rights groups described as “highly dubious.”
In September 2001, 13 newspaper journalists were arrested after President Issaias Afeworki closed Eritrea’s independent newspapers, leaving only the state-run Hadas Eritrea. PEN Canada adopted the following as Honorary Members: Yusuf Mohamed Ali (editor-in-chief of Tsigenay), Mattewos Habteab (editor-in-chief of Meqaleh), Dawit Habtemichael (reporter for Meqaleh), Medhanie Haile (editor-inchief of Keste Debena), Emanuel Asrat (editor of Zemen), Temesken Ghebreyesus (reporter for Keste Debena), Dawit Isaac (writer and co-owner of Setit), Fesshaye Yohannes “Joshua” (playwright, poet and publisher of Setit) and Said Abdelkader (writer, editor of Admas and owner of the press that printed most of the independent newspapers). In September 2009, Reporters Without Borders reported that many of the imprisoned journalists were being held in metal containers or underground cells in Adi Abeito Military Prison, in Eiraeiro Prison and in the Dahlak archipelago.
In 2007, reports indicated that four of the journalists had died in custody between 2005 and early 2007: Abdelkader, Haile, Ali and Yohannes. Their deaths were attributed to harsh conditions and lack of medical attention. Some sources indicate that that Yohannes had been tortured prior to his death, including having his fingernails ripped out. In May 2007, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACPHR) of the African Union ruled that the detention of the journalists was arbitrary and unlawful and called on the Eritrean government to release and compensate the detainees.
Isaac, who spent a number of years in Sweden during the Eritrean war of independence and the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia, holds Swedish citizenship.
In November 2001, the Swedish local consul held a brief meeting with Isaac in jail. In April 2002, it was reported that Isaac had been hospitalized suffering from injuries sustained through his torture. In November 2005, Isaac was briefly released for a medical check-up and was allowed to call his family and friends in Sweden. As of January 2010, Isaac was reportedly being kept in solitary confinement in a tiny cell with no windows, and was in very poor physical and mental health. He and the other inmates are reportedly not allowed any contact with each other or the outside world, are routinely shackled and receive almost no medical care.
On February 18, 2010, Reporters Without Borders reported that Asrat and Habtemichael were being held at Eiraeiro Prison. However, an April 2010 article by the Committee to Protect Journalists cited reports from a former prison guard at Eiraeiro that Habtemichael had died in custody; this death is unconfirmed. The former guard reportedly also said that Ali had died in June 2003 as a result of extreme heat, Haile had died due to lack of medical treatment, while Yohannes and Abdelkader had committed suicide. These reports are likewise unconfirmed.
In a TV interview in 2009 President Afeworki said he did not know what crime Isaac had committed and added that Eritrean authorities would release him or put him on trial. In an interview published on the website of the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet on August 1, 2010, a senior adviser to President Afeworki said that Isaac was being held for his involvement in a “conspiracy” by a group of Eritreans “to facilitate” an invasion of the country by Ethiopia during the border war between the two countries. He refused to provide assurances that Isaac was still alive.
Seyoum Tsehaye, a TV and radio journalist who wrote a weekly column for the newspaper Setit, has been held without charge or trial since September 2001. He is one of ten Eritrean journalists adopted by PEN Canada. In 2007 Reporters Without Borders named him their “journalist of the year.”
José Armando Rodriguez Carreón was a veteran crime reporter for El Diario, a daily newspaper based in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua state. He was shot at least eight times by an unidentified person on the morning of November 13, 2008, as he was about to drive his daughter to school. José had covered drug-related violence and organized crime in Ciudad Juárez and, after receiving death threats, had briefly left Mexico to live in El Paso, Texas. On his return, he refused to stop covering crime stories despite receiving further death threats. Shortly before his death, Rodriguez told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ): “The risks here are high and rising, and journalists are easy targets. But I can’t live in my house like a prisoner. I refuse to live in fear.” In the weeks after his murder, several other El Diario received death threats, as did other media in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. Two prosecutors in charge of investigating the case have reportedly been assassinated. On May 26, 2011, the Inter American Press Association sent a letter to President Calderón, signed by hundreds of newspaper readers throughout the Americas, calling on him to intervene in order to ensure that the stalled investigation into José’s murder moves forward and those responsible are brought to justice. There has been no progress on the case since then.
Marco Antonio López Ortiz, a news editor for the daily newspaper Novedades Acapulco, was reportedly kidnapped in Acapulco, Guerrero state, on June 7, 2011. López disappeared after being assaulted by unidentified men after leaving his office that night. López oversaw the paper’s crime reporting, among other responsibilities. Local journalists in Acapulco have claimed that organized crime groups repeatedly threaten them to keep coverage to a minimum. Novedades Acapulco’s crime reports are accordingly brief and avoid investigative reporting, to avoid angering and being targeted by the groups. The state attorney general has begun an investigation into López’ disappearance and the National Human Rights Commission is also investigating the case. In July 2011, President Calderón’s office wrote PEN International, to say that López’ case had been referred to the Federal Attorney General (Procuraduría General de la República).
Anna Politkovskaya was a special correspondent for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. She reported on the human rights abuses carried out by Russian forces in Chechnya and openly criticized Vladimir Putin. In 2001, she was detained by Russian officials in Chechnya and threatened with rape and torture and put through a mock execution. On October 7, 2006, Politkovskaya’s body was found in the stairwell of her apartment building. She suffered a gunshot wound to the head. Five years after her death, PEN International continues to call for an impartial investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder. Nine years later, following several inconclusive trials, PEN International continues to call for an impartial investigation into Politkovskaya’s murder.
Blogger Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012 in Jeddah after organizing a conference to mark a “day of liberalism.” The event was banned and his online forum – created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia – was closed by a court order. On May 7, 2014, Jeddah’s Criminal Court sentenced Badawi to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (CAD $291,700) on charges of “founding a liberal website,” “adopting liberal thought,” and “insulting Islam.” According to PEN’s information, when Badawi appeared in court to collect a written account of the verdict on May 28, 2014, he discovered the insertion of two additional penalties: a 10-year travel ban and 10-year ban from participating in visual, electronic, and written media following his release.
High-school student Tal Al-Mallouhi, a poet and blogger, was detained on December 27, 2009 after being summoned by state security officers for questioning about her blog entries. Following her arrest, Tal Al-Mallouhi’s family home was raided by security agents who confiscated her computer, notebook and other personal documents. She was held incommunicado at an undisclosed location without charge or access to her family for the first nine months of her detention. Her family was allowed to visit her once at Doma Prison in Damascus in September 2010. On September 2, 2010, her mother published an open letter to the Syrian president seeking information about her daughter’s welfare and calling for her release. On October 5, 2010, it was reported that Al-Mallouhi had been charged with spying for a foreign country. On February 14, 2011, she appeared before Damascus State Security Court in a closed session, during which she was convicted of “divulging information to a foreign state” and sentenced to five years in prison. Al-Mallouhi has no known political affiliations, and sources close to the family are baffled by the charges. It is feared that she could be targeted for comments and poems published in her blog.
Dilmurod Saidov – aka Sayyid – was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison on February 22, 2009 on charges of extortion and forgery according to statement made by a head of the Agricultural Equipment and Tractor Park in Samarkand, who claimed that Saidov had sought to extort US$15,000 from him. Authorities added a second charge of extortion in March and a charge of forgery in April. Saidov’s case was riddled with procedural violations but when his lawyer appealed the sentence in late 2009 after the Samarkand Region court upheld the journalist’s sentence on September 11, 2011. A further appeal, to the Uzbek Supreme Court, is underway. Saidov suffers from tuberculosis and was admitted to hospital for 27 days in mid-August 2011. His family has requested a provisional release during trial but this was rejected on the basis that he is a “dangerous criminal. Saidov has reportedly been subjected to harsh prison conditions and psychotropic drugs during his detention.