On the 31st Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre . . .

A replica of the memorial in the Polish city of Wrocław depicting a destroyed bicycle and a tank track as a symbol of the Tiananmen Square protests. The original was destroyed by Security Service despite the fact that it was after the 1989 elections./ Photograph courtesy of Masur and generously released into the Public Domain.

The Tiananmen Square protests or the Tiananmen Square Incident, commonly known as the June Fourth Incident were student-led demonstrations held in Tiananmen Squarei n Beijing during 1989. The popular national movement inspired by the Beijing protests is sometimes called the ’89 Democracy Movement. The protests started on April 15 and were forcibly suppressed on June 4 when the government declared martial law and sent the military to occupy central parts of Beijing. In what became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, troops with assault rifles and tanks fired at the demonstrators and those trying to block the military’s advance into Tiananmen Square. Estimates of the death toll vary from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands more wounded. MORE



On June 4th, the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, PEN America announced it will bestow the 2020 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award on Chinese essayist, civil rights activist, and lawyer Xu Zhiyong. Xu, a longtime civil rights leader, was detained February 15 for penning an essay criticizing the leadership of China’s president Xi Jinping, including his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, and calling on Xi to resign.



Xu Zhiyong / Photograph courtesy of Shizhao under CC BY 3.0

Xu Zhiyong (b. 1973) is a Chinese civil rights activist and formerly a lecturer at the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications. He was one of the founders of the NGO Open Constitution Initiative and an active rights lawyer in China who helped those underprivileged. He is the main founder and icon of the New Citizens’ Movement in China. In January 2014 he was sentenced to four years in prison for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order”. He was detained again on 15 February 2020, in the southern city of Guangzhou.Xu was born in Minquan County, Henan Province.  He is married to Cui Zheng, a journalist. Their daughter was born on January 13, 2014, while Xu was in a detention center facing trial. He had been in hiding since late 2019 and was detained by Chinese police on February 15, 2020.

Xu received his Bachelor of Law degree from Lanzhou University in 1994 and Doctor of Law degree from Peking University in 2002.

Xu is currently being held incommunicado in state custody, and it is widely expected that he will soon be formally charged with “subverting state power,” an offense that carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. Earlier this spring, PEN America labeled China as the top jailer of writers worldwide based on a global census published in the PEN America 2019 Freedom to Write Index.



The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, given annually, recognizes an imprisoned writer targeted for the exercise of free expression. Of the forty-seven jailed writers who have received the this honor since 1987, forty-one have been released due in part to the global attention and pressure the Award generates. By conferring the award on Xu, PEN America kickstarts a global campaign for his release.

“Xu Zhiyong has guts,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s CEO. “His essays have served as calls to conscience at pivotal moments in China’s recent history. The one that resulted in his arrest was a detailed, blistering analysis of President Xi Jinping’s blind spots and shortcomings as a leader, published while COVID-19 still raged in China. His detention forms part of a Chinese government effort to control the global narrative about the outbreak, including by disciplining Chinese doctors and journalists who tried to sound alarm bells and punishing critics of the government response to the pandemic. In his writings, Xu has been a persistent voice calling out Beijing’s intolerance for dissent—and campaigning for social equity, rule of law, and a joyful vision for his country’s future.”

Alongside his human rights advocacy, Xu is well known for his series of online essays concerning contemporary social issues in China. He has written prolifically online on issues including access to fair education, governmental mistreatment and repatriation of migrant workers, corruption, and wasteful government spending. His essays have achieved the status of samizdat-like writing among reform-minded intellectuals and advocates across China. In the essay published just before his detention, entitled “Dear Chairman Xi, It’s Time for You to Go,” Xu wrote: “If you are determined to set yourself against history, you will surely visit disaster upon this country. What China needs above all other things is freedom! Only with freedom will creativity truly flourish and progress be possible.”

“Thirty-one years ago today, Chinese dissidents and activists peacefully protesting to demand greater liberty—including the freedom to speak openly and without fear—were massacred in Tiananmen Square,” said novelist and PEN America’s president Jennifer Egan. “As our own country reels in crisis, citizens peacefully demanding that leaders be held accountable must be protected. We stand in passionate solidarity with those who use language as a tool of protest—in words and writings, and as a spur to mobilize others and drive forward public debate—around the world and here at home. We are proud to honor Xu Zhiyong for his indomitable will to speak the truth in the face of grave danger, and we pledge that his voice will not be silenced, nor his name erased. We will fight on his behalf until he is free.”

PEN AMERICA’S 2019

FREEDOM TO WRITE INDEX

PEN America’s 2019 Freedom to Write Index, the organization’s first annual global count of writers and public intellectuals unjustly detained or imprisoned worldwide, found that China held 73 writers and public intellectuals in prison or detention for their writing in 2019—more than any other country.

Traditionally bestowed at PEN America’s annual New York City gala, the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write award kicks off a campaign of advocacy for the awardee’s freedom. Past honorees include Saudi writer-activists Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan (2019); Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo (2018, freed in 2019), Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov (2017, freed in 2019), Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji (2016, freed in 2018), Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova (2015, freed in 2016 with continued restrictions on her movement), and Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti (2014).

PEN America’s annual gala is scheduled for December 8, 2020 at the American Museum of Natural History, health and safety permitting.

This post is complied courtesy of PEN America and Wikipedia.


Jamie Dedes:

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“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Disident Turkish Musician, İbrahim Gökçek, Ends His Death Fast After 323 Days; Gökçek’s Calls for Support

Cover from one of the musical collaborative Grup Yorum’s albums. Gökçek is a member of the Group.

“There have been so many days that we shared the same stages, platforms with you, our intellectual and artist friends. With those we couldn’t share the same stage, we had the honor of making art for a more fair and livable world. We have also experienced the oppression of the dominant powers who are fed by people’s remaining ignorant and unorganized . . . ” excerpt from İbrahim Gökçek’s letter of April 30.



We join with PEN America and other organizations that support free speech and freedom of artistic expression in our relief to learn that Turkish musician İbrahim Gökçek, a member of the music collective Grup Yorum, suspended his hunger strike as of Wednesday. Mr.Gökçek is receiving medical treatment. This news comes a day after it was announced that his health had reached a crisis point. İbrahim Gökçek started his hunger strike 323 days ago to protest his imprisonment and that of eight other band members in 2019.

Gökçek decided to suspend his hunger strike after Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci, president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, and a group of lawmakers vouched for Grup Yorum and declared they would fight for the release of the imprisoned band members. Gökçek had turned his hunger strike into a “death fast”—intending to pursue the strike until his own death—in January. Released February 24 because of his health condition, he and fellow group member Helin Bölek were hospitalized against their wishes on March 11. Helin Bölek died April 3. Weeks later, on April 24, Mustafa Koçak, not a member of the band but also unjustly imprisoned, died after a 297-day hunger strike. Gökçek had continued his hunger strike, calling for the release of all band members, a fair trial, the right to hold concerts again, and the cessation of raids on their cultural center.

“We are relieved to hear İbrahim Gökçek’s decision to break his death fast. But he and other Grup Yorum members should not have to resort to a hunger strike in the first place to be able to share their music, and the Turkish authorities’ grievous attempts to silence their voices is abominable,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Grup Yorum members have continued to experience repression and harassment at the hands of the Turkish government for over three decades, including arrest, reports of abuse against detained members, banned concerts, and even the detention of their audience members. Their struggle is not over yet. Band members, including Gökçek’s wife Sultan, remain imprisoned, and the government still has not allowed the band to hold a concert. We condemn these ongoing attacks on free expression by the Turkish government, both against Grup Yorum members as well as any artist, writer, or activist who dares to speak out against injustice. Artists should be allowed to live and work without fear, and they should not have to deprive themselves of their life and wellbeing in order to do so.”

In an open letter Mr. Gökçek calls for the release of all members of Grup Yorum, decries the “lies and demagoguery” about the Group, and calls for support from other artists and intellectuals for his demands and that of all Grup Yorum.

English translation of Bella Ciao, an Italian folk song

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This post was complied courtesy of PEN America, Amazon, Wikipedia, Infoshri, YouTube, and various news reports. 

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them.


Jamie Dedes:

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



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Maintain the movement.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

In the Wake of COVID-19: Free Speech and Freedom of Artistic Expression Threatened

Rivera himself, as a pug-faced child, and Frida Kahlo stand beside the skeleton; mural in Mexico City courtesy of Diego Rivera Núñez and one more author under CC BY 2.0

“Freedom of expression is a human right and forms Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom of expression [a foundation for other rights] covers freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and gives individuals and communities the right to articulate their opinions without fear of retaliation, censorship or punishment. (The right to freedom of expression wouldn’t be worth much if the authorities also had the right to imprison anyone who disagrees with them.) An effective media also depends on the legal basis that freedom of expression gives the right to function and report freely, sometimes critically, without threat or fear of punishment.

“Freedom of expression is not an absolute right: it does not protect hate speech or incitement to violence. That said, many other rights which are intrinsic to our daily lives build on and intersect with this protection for free thought and individual expression. Freedom of expression covers everything from satire to political campaigns to conversations in your own home. It’s a fundamental human right which allows for citizens to speak freely and without interference.” Ten Reasons Freedom of Expression is Important, The Legal Media Defense Initiative (UK)



It’s not news that in times of upheaval when confusion reigns, the power elite use that as cover or excuse for violations of human rights and the rule of law.  With the outbreak of COVID-19, we saw the beginning of this type of abuse relative to the virus when Chinese physician, Li Wenliang, conscientiously sounded an alert and was subsequently arrested and accused of “rumor-mongering” by Wuhan police. According to Worldometer.info, as of today deaths from this virus total 2,081,733. That number would include the good Dr. Wenliang and no doubt underestimates the total since testing is not widely available.

To one degree or another the curbing of the arts and of news articles related to COVID-19 is happening all over the world in both developed and developing nations. Certainly, in my own country (the U.S.), we’ve seen journalists, advisors, and politicians denounced, fired, or banned based on their reporting, advice, or political positions. Just yesterday Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s placed a ban on attendance by reporters at state briefings. Reporters are now required to email their questions one hour in advance of meetings for prescreening by officials.

Earlier this month three Burmese artists were arrested for painting a mural depicting the dangers of COVID-19.  “Zayar Hnaung, Ja Sai, and Naw Htun Aung were charged with violating article 295A of the Myanmar penal code, which criminalizes speech that ‘insults or attempts to insult’ religion or religious beliefs. The artists were arrested after painting a mural intended to raise awareness about the coronavirus epidemic.” reports PEN America. The intent of the mural was to urge citizens to stay at home. It depicted the grim reaper, which some Buddhists said looked like a monk. Hence the accusation.

On Monday, the Indian government filed a complaint against  Siddharth Varadarajan for reporting on one of Uttar Pradesh’ officials for not adhering to the national public lockdown.

This is by no means a comprehensive report. It is, however, a sad sample of the current state of affairs, especially sad when so many lives are in danger in the most absolute terms and in terms of quality of life.
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The resources for this post include: The Media Legal Defense Initiative (UK), PEN America, Kansas City News, and The Indian Express, 
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Some resources for journalists and artists at risk:
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Jamie Dedes:

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

Maintain the movement.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

POPULAR POLITICAL BLOGGER, LAURA BERLIN, DENIED PRESS CREDENTIAL TO COVER IOWA’S 2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

“PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship. It believes that the necessary advance of the world toward a more highly organized political and economic order renders free criticism of governments, administrations, and institutions imperative.” PEN Charter, 1948



“The Iowa House’s decision to deny press credentials to influential political blogger Laura Belin (Bleeding Heart, A community blog about Iowa politics) is a disturbing limitation on her First Amendment rights,” PEN America announced in a statement earlier this week.

Laura Belin, a writer and blogger who has covered political news at the Iowa state legislature since 2007, recently applied for and was reportedly denied a formal press credential that would have allowed her to cover the 2019 legislative session. The press credential would have provided deeper access to lawmaker briefings throughout the session as well as a workspace to focus on her blog, The Bleeding Heartland, which receives more than 1,500 unique daily visitors when the legislature is in session. Belin has been touted as “one of the best political reporters in Iowa” by news executive Michael Gartner. In denying Belin’s application, the Iowa House stated that “press credentials are not issued to members of the public.” Belin told the Associated Press that other non-traditional news outlets have been issued press credentials in the past and suggested that the reason for the denial may be the liberal-leaning nature of her blog. Belin has attempted to appeal the House’s decision and is considering legal action.

“There is little obvious reason why the Iowa House might have denied Belin’s press credential application, and it would be deeply concerning if their decision was motivated by wanting to restrict the political viewpoints espoused in her blog,” said Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “The general lack of transparency around the House’s process for approving press credentials creates space for unfounded restrictions of journalist access. We caution the Iowa House that any content-based limitations on journalists’ ability to report on government business would be an affront to press freedoms.”

In October 2018, PEN America filed a lawsuit, PEN America v. Trump, that seeks to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes.

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Photo credit: The State Capitol of Iowa, with its Golden Dome courtesy of Iqkotze under CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


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Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”


The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“What if our religion was each other. If our practice was our life. If prayer, our words. What if the temple was the Earth. If forests were our church. If holy water–the rivers, lakes, and ocean. What if meditation was our relationships. If the teacher was life. If wisdom was self-knowledge. If love was the center of our being.” Ganga White, teacher and exponent of Yoga and founder of White Lotus, a Yoga center and retreat house in Santa Barbara, CA

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton