Sydney PEN is dedicated to freedom of expression, and committed to the role of literature in promoting a better understanding of different cultures. Sydney PEN believes the Federal Attorney-General’s proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act are not consistent with the exercise of freedom of expression. Instead, the proposed amendments would provide shelter for those who promote intolerance, vilification and hatred based on race and religion.
Signatories to this submission to the Attorney-General of Australia include many of Australia’s great writers, publishers and academics. As PEN Melbourne member and celebrated author Arnold Zable says, ‘Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to vilify, falsely malign and discriminate.’
Please read this submission and contact the Attorney-General directly so he knows many Australians are disturbed about these proposed changes, and want a country that does not permit prejudice under the guise of freedom of expression.
Senator the Hon. George Brandis, Attorney-General for Australia
PO Box 6100, Senate,
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Sydney PEN draws your attention to a petition of Writers against Mass Surveillance, an international appeal that has already been signed by more than 500 writers from around the world. Many Australian writers have signed the petition, including members of Sydney PEN’s Distinguished Writers Panel Frank Moorhouse, John Coetzee, Helen Garner, Geraldine Brooks and David Malouf.
For more information, or to sign the petition, see http://www.change.org/petitions/a-stand-for-democracy-in-the-digital-age-3
Michael Kirby to speak at Day of the Imprisoned Writer – 15 November
The final PEN Free Voices lecture for 2013 will be given on the International Day of the Imprisoned Writer. The Hon Michael Kirby will speak on on:
Investigating human rights violations in North Korea for the United Nations.
The role of media and global awareness
In May 2013, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged human rights abuses In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).
In July 2013, the Hon Michael Kirby, a past Justice of the High Court of Australia, was appointed to chair the commission by the President of the Human Rights Council. With his colleagues he decided to undertake the investigation under the spotlight of global media. Unusually, this United Nations investigation would engage with public hearings. Many witnesses in Tokyo, Seoul and elsewhere have agreed to take part in proceedings which are recorded and later placed on the World Wide Web. The hearings are now available to millions of viewers everywhere who have access to the Internet (although this is not available to most people in North Korea). By refusing to engage with the commission of Inquiry, the government in North Korea has made it more difficult to attract attention to the serious state of human rights in their country. The use of public hearings and the great interest in them by global media and ordinary citizens may, however, raise expectations that the United Nations will respond when the report of the Inquiry is delivered in March 2014.
In this talk, Michael Kirby will explain the procedures and objectives of the Commission of Inquiry. He will describe the importance of global media as a potential contributor to the attainment of universal human rights.
The Free Voices lecture series is supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.
DATE: Friday, 15 November
PLACE: Jean Garling Anteroom,
1st Floor, Mitchell Wing
State Library of NSW
Sydney PEN congratulates Tim Soutphommasane who has been appointed as Australia’s new Race Discrimination Commissioner.
Tim will deliver the second PEN Free Voices lecture for 2013 in Sydney on Thursday, 22 August, and in Canberra on Thursday 5 September.
Speaking on the topic Politics and Friendship, he explains:
“In more classical times, friendship was regarded as a virtue, and as a prerequisite of political freedom. But what role does friendship play in modern contemporary notions of politics?”
In this Free Voices lecture, Dr Soutphommasane will explore whether it is time for friendship to return to our thinking about public life.
Dr Tim Soutphommasane is a political philosopher and postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, the University of Sydney. His recent books include Don’t Go Back To Where You Came From and The Virtuous Citizen.
SYDNEY: Thursday 22 August
TIME: 6-7.30 pm
PLACE: Metcalfe Auditorium, Macquarie Street Building, State Library of NSW
COST: $15/$10 (Library Friends, concession)
BOOK: firstname.lastname@example.org or 9273 1770
CANBERRA: Thursday 5 September
TIME: 6.00-7.30 pm
PLACE: National Library Theatre, Parkes Place
BOOK: nla.gov.au/bookings/friends or 02 6262 1698
– Free Speech, Vilification and Power
– First 2013 Free Voices lecture
Sydney PEN President Michael Fraser listens to Waleed Aly, with the symbolic PEN Empty Chair in the foreground.
Waleed Aly is a lecturer in politics at Monash University, and hosts Radio National’s DRIVE program and BIG IDEAS on ABC Television. He also writes for writes the The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian and The Sunday Times of India. He is the author of People Like Us: How Arrogance is Dividing Islam and the West and Quarterly Essay: What’s Right? The Future of Conservatism in Australia.
Waleed delivered Sydney PEN’s first Free Voices 2013 lecture at the Sydney Writers' Festival on Sunday 26 May. The text of his address, on Free Speech, Vilification and Power can be read in the current issue of the PEN Magazine on this website.
Membership of International PEN is through Sydney PEN, its local centre. Membership is open to all who subscribe to and agree to abide by the aims of International PEN as expressed in its International PEN Charter.
By joining Sydney PEN you will be supporting the work of an historical Australian organisation, with a focus on advocating for these rights in our Asian and Pacific region.
**PEN: Free Voices Lecture Series.
Day of the Imprisoned Writer, Special Event.
Censoring Palestine: the Nakba Law**
In 2011, Israel enacted the “Budgets Foundations Law (1985) – Reducing Budget or Support for Activity Contrary to the Principles of the State”. The ‘Nakba Law’ enables “the withholding of funds to public institutions deemed to be involved in publicly challenging the founding of Israel as a Jewish state or any activity denying the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” The law seeks to prevent Palestinians in Israel from exercising their right to run an academic conference, conduct historical research, hold a seminar, screen a film or stage a play on a seminal event in their history. It also means that discussion of the definition of the state is deemed to be seditious.
Activists, both Arab-Israelis and Israelis, are challenging the censorship of the Nakba, both legally and through protests, commemoration activities and education. They are doing so because the Nakba law is simply a codification of what has been happening to Palestinians from 1948 until today: the censorship of the collective memory, free speech, history, equality and dignity of Palestinians.
Randa Abdel-Fattah is the author of eight novels. She is also a lawyer, human rights activist and a doctoral candidate at Macquarie University researching Islamophobia. Randa has been a commentator on TV programs such as Q & A, Lateline, Insight, Channel 10 News, The Drum and Sunrise, and is frequently sought for comment in the media on issues pertaining to Muslims, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and asylum seekers. In 2010 she was invited by the US State Department as the Australian representative in a 3- week program across the US to investigate multiculturalism and policy.
Sydney PEN joins PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee in protesting the continued detention of academic, blogger and human rights activist Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, after an appeals court ordered a retrial of their case but ruled that they should remain in jail pending a new verdict. No date has yet been set for the re-trial, which will be heard in a civilian court.
PEN continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Bahrain for the peaceful exercise of their opinions, including Dr Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and urges a full and independent investigation into allegations that they were tortured in pre-trial detention. It reminds the Bahraini authorities of their obligations to protect the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a signatory.
According to PEN’s information, on 30 April 2012 the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial in the case of all twenty-one opposition activists, writers and bloggers convicted by a special security court on 22 June 2011 of ‘plotting to overthrow the government’ for their peaceful opposition activities. They include academic, blogger and human rights activist Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who were each sentenced to life imprisonment after calling for political reform and reporting on human rights abuses in the country. After the hearing the official Bahrain News Agency reported that the retrial will hear ‘testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses…once more as if it is a new trial…". None of the defendants were present at the court hearing, and all fourteen detainees are expected to remain in custody for the duration of their appeal, except for Al Hurra Yousif Mohammed who was released after yesterdays’ hearing having served his sentence.
Seven of the defendants were convicted in absentia, including blogger Ali Abdul Imam of Bahrain Online, sentenced to fifteen years in prison. The appeal of the fourteen detainees was heard on 6 September 2011 by the military-run National Safety Court of Appeal, and all the sentences were upheld on appeal at a brief hearing on 28 September 2011. The trial did not meet with international standards of fairness, and there has been no independent investigation into allegations by some of the defendants, including Dr Al-Singace and Mr Al-Khawaja, that they were tortured in pre-trial detention, when they were held incommunicado.
PEN International's WiPC supported a trial observation mission by British Barrister Sarah Elliott of Doughty Street Chambers to Bahrain for the verdict in September 2011 and for hearing of the Court of Cassation on 23 April 2012 in partnership with the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX). It is supported by IFEX member the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), both of which Al-Khawaja is a founder. She received permission by the authorities to attend the Court’s hearing on 23 April which was then postponed for one week, but there was no reply to the request to allow her to return to attend the 30 April hearing.
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has pledged to continue his hunger strike, which he started on 8 February 2012, ‘until freedom or death’. He was finally permitted a visit by his wife on 29 April, who claimed he had been force-fed without his consent. Bahraini officials claim al-Khawaja agreed to all procedures. According to his family he is close to death.
Please send appeals:
Protesting the continued detention of Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja solely for peacefully exercising their right to free expression;
Demanding a full independent investigation into allegations that both men have been tortured and ill-treated in detention;
Seeking assurances that both men have access to all necessary medical care whilst detained;
Urging the Bahraini authorities to abide by their obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Bahrain solely for the peaceful expression their opinions, including Dr Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.
Send appeals to:
His Majesty Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa
King of Bahrain
Office of His Majesty the King
Kingdom of Bahrain.
Fax: +973 176 64 587
Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa
Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs
Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs
Fax: +973 175 31 284
Dr. Fatima AL-Balushi
Minister of Human Rights and Social Development, Acting Minister of Health
Ministry of Human Rights and Development
Kingdom of Bahrain
Fax: +973 17101955
email: pr "at" social.gov.bh
Please copy appeals to the Australian Embassy in Saudi Arabia, which is responsible for Bahrain.
Mr Neil Hawkins
Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Abdullah bin Hozafa Al-Sahmi Avenue
For more information please contact Cathy McCann at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: email@example.com
Sydney PEN and PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee are seriously concerned for the welfare of literary translator Mohammad Soleimani Nia, who has started a hunger strike in protest at his detention. Soleimani Nia has been held without charge since 10 January 2012, and is said to be in a fragile condition. PEN fears that he is held in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
Iranian translator, Mohammad Soleimani Nia, who was arrested without charge in Jan 2012
According to PEN’s information, Mohammad Soleimani Nia, aged 39, was detained on 10 January 2012 after responding to a summons to report to the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. After arriving at court, he was accompanied by security guards to his home in Karaj, outside Tehran, which he shares with his parents. The guards searched the house and seized computer equipment and documents before taking him away.
Soleimani Nia has been under pressure since late November 2011, when he was questioned by security and intelligence officers and banned from leaving Iran. He is believed to be targeted for developing the professional social networking website U24, launched by Soleimani Nia in April 2007 to help Iranian professionals build links with one another.
Soleimani Nia is translator of the book Funny in Farsi by Iranian American writer Firoozeh Dumas. He is held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison, notorious for its harsh conditions. Prior to the start of his hunger strike on 2 April 2012 he was said to be in a fragile condition, leading to mounting concerns for his well -being.
Please send appeals:
protesting the detention of literary translator Mohammad Soleimani Nia;
calling for his immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory; and
expressing serious concerns for his well-being in detention, and urging that he has full access to his family, lawyer and medical care.
Send appeals to:
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei,
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic of Iran
Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadeqh Larijani
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh (Office of the Head of the Judiciary)
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri
Islamic Republic of Iran
Please send a copy of your appeal to:
His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: Via Foreign Ministry: +98 21 6 674 790
(mark: “Please forward to H.E. President Ahmadinejad”)
Sydney PEN recommends that supporters copy their appeal to the Iranian embassy in Australia, asking them to forward it and welcoming any comments:
His Excellency Dr Mahmoud BABAEI
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
25 Culgoa Circuit
O'Malley ACT 2606
Tel: (02) 6290 2430
Fax: (02) 6290 2825
Email: amb.office "at" iranembassy.org.au
For further information please contact Cathy McCann at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: cathy.mccann "at" pen-international.org