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Search Warrant for Visitors to a Protest Website, First and Fourth Amendment rights challenged

Scene at the Signing of the United States Constitution by (1940) American artist and illustrator, Howard Chandler Christy (1872-1952)

“The DreamHost warrant in particular is likely to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights—including the right to receive information, to speak anonymously, and to associate with like-minded individuals free from the threat of government unmasking.” American Civil Liberties Union

Constitution of the United States of America

“Reports that the Justice Department served a warrant on an internet company, demanding it turn over records that could be used to identify more than a million visitors to a Trump protest website, raise serious concerns about the current administration targeting critics and attempting to chill dissent,” reports PEN America along with various other legal and rights-watch organizations and news outlets. This is again an issue that goes far beyond which side of the great divide you stand. It’s about the protections of freedom of speech and other civil rights and points to the potential for human rights abuses.

The company, Dreamhost, maintains disruptJ20, which was used to organize protests for January’s presidential inauguration. The Justice Department, which handles local prosecutions in the District of Columbia, issued the warrant to Dreamhost in mid-August, according to Dreamhost, which required the company to produce “all files” in connection with disruptJ20. This would include logs for each visitor to the site.

The logs include detailed information: the time and date of the visit, the internet address of the user and the pages each visitor viewed. Combined with other easily obtainable information, police could then trace the specific computers of the more than 1.3 million visitors for which Dreamhost has logs. As of August, local D.C. police have arrested more than 200 protesters en masse, including a number of journalists, and have charged them with felony rioting. This could result in decades-long jail sentences.

“I am one of the more than a million people who visited this website, and who will be swept up by this obscenely broad search warrant—all because it’s my job to follow these things,” said Gabe Rottman, PEN America’s Washington director. “How many other journalists, academics, lawyers, peaceful protesters, and even Trump supporters visited this website? They will all be under a microscope if the court lets this dragnet stand.”

Dreamhost is currently challenging the warrant under both free speech and privacy grounds. Among other things, the company is arguing that the warrant would sweep in completely innocent, and constitutionally protected, communications without any indication that the communications are in any way relevant to wrongdoing. Those affected would include journalists, writers, academics and students just handling their assigned responsibilities.

Brett Max Kaufman, a staff attorney with the ACLU Center for Democracy, writes that this action is a “clear threat to the Constitution.”

“One of the core principles enshrined in the Fourth Amendment is a prohibition on general searches — meaning, the government cannot simply go fishing for a wide range of information in the hope that some kind of useful evidence will turn up. But that’s exactly what the government appears to be doing with a newly revealed search warrant seeking reams of digital records about an Inauguration Day protest website that could implicate more than 1 million users.” More HERE.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is working with Dreamhost to fight this:

“[This is] just one example of the staggering overbreadth of the search warrant, it would require DreamHost to turn over the IP logs of all visitors to the site. Millions of visitors—activists, reporters, or you (if you clicked on the link)—would have records of their visits turned over to the government. The warrant also sought production of all emails associated with the account and unpublished content, like draft blog posts and photos.” More HERE.


Both illustrations are in the public domain. This feature is primarily courtesy of the following organizations:

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

DREAMHOST is a Los Angeles-based web hosting provider and domain name registrar. It is the web hosting and cloud computing business owned by New Dream Network, LLC, founded in 1996 by Dallas Bethune, Josh Jones, Michael Rodriguez and Sage Weil, undergraduate students at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, and registered in 1997 by Michael Rodriguez. DreamHost began hosting customers’ sites in 1997.

The ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION (EFF) is an international non-profit digital rights group based in San Francisco, California. EFF provides funds for legal defense in court, presents amicus curiae briefs, defends individuals and new technologies from what it considers abusive legal threats, works to expose government malfeasance, provides guidance to the government and courts, organizes political action and mass mailings, supports some new technologies which it believes preserve personal freedoms and online civil liberties, maintains a database and web sites of related news and information, monitors and challenges potential legislation that it believes would infringe on personal liberties and fair use, and solicits a list of what it considers abusive patents with intentions to defeat those that it considers without merit.

ACLU CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY, under the direction of Cecillia Wang, works to strengthen American democratic institutions and values, promote human rights, ensure government accountability, and protect the rights of immigrants in our national community. The Center for Democracy includes the National Security Project, the Human Rights Program, the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, the Voting Rights Project, and the Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Cambodian Government attempts to control discussion about next year’s elections

Cambodian Natonal Assembly

PEN America’s Freedom to Write program drew our attention late last month to the Cambodian government’s efforts to shut down several news outlets saying this represents a clear attempt to stifle a free press in advance of the 2018 elections.  IFEX, an international network of organizations committed to the defence and promotion of freedom of expression as a human right, calls for solidarity in the face of the Cambodian government’s crackdowns on independent media and civil society.

Cambodia, located in the Southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula, has a population of over 15 million. The country’s minority groups include Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams, and thirty hill tribes.The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh, the political, economic, and cultural centre of Cambodia.

The kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with Norodom Sihamoni, a monarch chosen by the Royal Throne Council, as head of state. He was also an ambassador to UNESCO. The head of government is Hun Sen, who is currently the longest serving non-royal leader in South East Asia and has ruled Cambodia for over thirty years.

Cambodia faces many challenges including widespread poverty, pervasive corruption, lack of political freedoms, low human development, and a high rate of hunger. The country has been described by Human Rights Watch’s Southeast Asian Director, David Roberts, as a “vaguely communist free-market state with a relatively authoritarian coalition ruling over a superficial democracy.”

Rooms of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum contain thousands of photos taken by the Khmer Rouge of their victims.

According to Human Rights Watch, “Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, has been in power since 1985. His rule has relied on security force violence and politically motivated persecution of opposition members, activists, and human rights workers. Security forces commit killings and torture with impunity. Authorities regularly restrict the right to peaceful assembly by suppressing protests and banning nonviolent gatherings and processions. The politically powerful have carried out forced evictions and illegal land grabs for decades. Government officials and judges are mired in corruption. Garment industry workers, primarily women, are subject to sexual discrimination and other rights abuses.” MORE

Reports are that The Voice of Democracy and Moha Nokor Radio, both independent radio stations, were ordered by the Ministry of Information to close. The Voice of Democracy, a Khmer-language station, is affiliated with the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, an independent media organization. Maha Nokor, which also broadcasts in Khmer, is seen as one of the few outlets where opposition media parties can share their message.

The Cambodian Flag

The Cambodian government’s Finance Ministry recently accused two U.S.-funded independent media outlets, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, of failing to register with the country’s tax officials and of operating without official media licenses.  Apparently both programs have operated within Cambodia for years.

Another major media outlet, Cambodia Daily, was accused by the Finance Ministry of failing to pay $6.3 million in taxes, an accusation which the Daily contends is politically motivated. Failure to pay the tax, the Ministry declared, may result in the newspaper’s closure. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen made remarks in favor of shutting down the newspaper if they fail to pay, and the Ministry of Information has refused to renew the Daily’s media license until the disputed bill is resolved. The Cambodia Daily, which has operated since 1993, is one of only three English-language newspapers within Cambodia and as such serves as a vital voice of news from Cambodia for the international community.

“These closures and threatened closures are an attempt by Hun Sen’s government to shut down media outlets that it believes may criticize them in the run-up to the 2018 Cambodian elections,” said James Tager, Senior Program Manager of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Press freedom and media diversity are not political chess pieces to be removed when convenient; they are underpinnings of a democratic society. PEN America calls on the Cambodian government to cease its attempts to shutter Cambodia Daily, The Voice of Democracy, and other media outlets, and to respect press freedom and diverse media voices.”

A number of human rights groups have been accused of not paying appropriate taxes to the government after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered an investigation into the tax payments of NGOs registered in Cambodia. On August 23, the Foreign Affairs Ministry ordered the National Democratic Institute, a U.S.-based NGO that works to support and foster democratic institutions, to cease its operations in the country. The Ministry, alleging that the Institute had failed to meet registration requirements under the country’s Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations, also ordered the NGO’s international staff to exit the country within a week.

Then Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Hun Sen, the 34th Prime Minister of Cambodia (2016), in an effort to encourage unity among the Asian Pacific nations with regard to the South China Sea.

This feature is complied primarily courtesy of PEN America, Reuters, IFEX, Human Rights Watch and Wikipedia. Photo credits: the Cambodian National Assembly by Io Herodotus under CC BY-SA 4.0; Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is in the public domain; drawing of the Cambodian Flag under CC0; Kerry and Hun Sen by the U.S. Department of State and therefore in the public domain.

PEN America’s stated mission is to “stand at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide” It is important that we as poets and writers stand alongside PEN in championing “the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.” PEN unites “writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.”

Russian Theatre Director, Kirill Serebrennikov, Detained … part of a strategy to stiffle artistic freedom

Russian Stage and Film Director, Theater Designer, and Artistic Director of the Gogol Center, Kirill Serebrennikov (b. 1969)

The detention yesterday of Russian Stage and Film Director, Kirill Semyonovich Serebrennikov, on dubious charges is part of a concerted campaign to silence dissenting voices in the arts in Russia.

Serebrennikov’s father was Jewish and a surgeon. His mother was from the Ukraine and taught Russian. Serebrennikov was graduated from Rostov State University in 1992. He was a physics major and had no formal theatre education prior to his 1994 debut as a stage director.

According to PEN America, Serebrennikov was detained on and will face trial on embezzlement. He is accused of embezzling 68 million rubles ($1.1 million) of state funding for a project called Platform, the purpose of which was to promote modern dance, theatre, and music to wider audiences. Investigators claimed that part of the project, a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, did not take place, despite having been staged at least fifteen times. Serebrennikov has turned to attendees on Facebook to prove that the play was staged, using the hashtag #ябылнаплатформе (I was at Platform.) If found guilty, he faces up to ten years’ imprisonment. In addition to PEN America, Civil society groups and prominent members of Russia’s and Europe’s artistic communities have called for Serebrennikov’s release.

The Gogol Center in Moscow is Russia’s leading avant-garde theater, a multi-use arts complex. It hosts movies, music concerts, a discussion club and performances by Russian and foreign directors on several stages. It is noted for its stagings of contemporary Russian Dramas and a lobby featuring neon-lit mirrors shaped like famous directors. 

The Center’s has recently hosted dance companies including SoundDrama and Studio Seven as part of an experimental artist in residence program specifically committed to art that “does not limit itself with any genre boundaries and constantly strives to reflect Modern Art in the most relevant way.”

Russian Playwright, Damaturge and Journalist, Valeriy Pecheykin (b. 29184)

The Center’s writer and dramaturge, Valeriy Pecheykin, is a regular contributor to Russian LGBT magazine Kvir, author of the plays My Moscow (2008), Net (2009), Lucifer (2008), Russia,Forward! (2011), A Little Hero (2014), screenplay co-author for Pavel Lungin’s The Conductor  (Russia, 2012). 

Kirill Serebrennikov, the artistic director of The Gogol Center is professor (of acting and direction) at the Moscow Art Theatre School. His productions were presented in Wiener Festwochen, and Avignon Theatre Festival. His films were screened at Cannes Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival, Rome Film Festival, and the Warsaw International Film Festival where his film Yuri’s Day received the Grand Prix.

Russian Ballet Dancer Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993)

Serebrennikov, artistic director of the Gogol Center, is a prominent critic of the Kremlin, having spoken out against anti-LGBT measures and the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in cultural affairs. PEN America has followed his case since May 2017, when his apartment and the Gogol Center were searched, and a bookkeeper and two other theater directors were arrested. In July 2017 the production of a ballet directed by Serebrennikov for the Bolshoi Theater about celebrated dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who was gay, was canceled after intervention by Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.

“The detention on dubious charges of a prominent theater director who has spoken out against the government is another move to stifle free expression and the arts in Russia, ” said Polina Kovaleva, PEN America free expression programs manager for Eurasia. “We urge the Russian government to drop all charges and release Serebrennikov immediately, and to end its campaign against artistic freedom.”

This is not the first time that PEN America sounded the alarm on the shrinking space for free expression, particularly artistic expression in Russia where the government has taken “increasingly brazen steps to control information and stifle creative expression.”

FREEDOM OF ARTISTIC EXPRESSION AND CREATION is defined by the United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner as “the right of all persons to freely experience and contribute to artistic expressions and creations, through individual or joint practice, to have access to and enjoy the arts, and to disseminate their expressions and creations.”

It is important that we as poets and writers be aware of and supportive of the artists and arts in our own countries and elsewhere to – as PEN America says and does – “champion freedom to write” and to openly acknowledge the “power of the word to transform the world … [and] to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.”

PEN America “stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide.” 

Note: The August issue of The BeZine is entirely devoted to theatre.


The sources/content for this feature are largely courtesy of PEN America, the United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, and Wikipedia.

Photo credits: Serebrennikov by Col. Hans Landa under CC BY-SA 3.0  license; Nureyev in his dressing room by Allan Warren under CC BY 3.0 license; Valeriy Pecheykin by Taktisch under CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Writers Worldwide Mourn the Death of Writer-Activist Liu Xiaobo in Chinese prison

Politial protest in Hong Kong against the detention of Liu Xiaobo, Photo courtesy of  Pederez under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

The death of Liu Xiaobo will forever mar China’s reputation under international law and global human rights standards, PEN America said today and called on China to Release Late Literary Icon’s Wife, Liu Xia

Liu Xiaobo, a brilliant writer, literary critic, and pro-democracy activist, was a founding member and former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. After his arrest, PEN America honored Liu with the 2009 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, kicking off an international campaign for his freedom that culminated in his receipt—in absentia—of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

PEN America held a candlelight vigil earlier this evening at the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the U.N. to honor Liu Xiaobo’s legacy and protest continued human rights abuses in China, where more than forty writers are currently in jail. This free, public event featured readings from the work of Liu and his wife, Liu Xia, who remains under house arrest in China without charge since her husband’s receipt of the Nobel Prize.

PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel released the following statement today in response to news of Liu Xiaobo’s death today:

“The death of Liu Xiaobo today from a virulent cancer contracted while serving an 11-year prison sentence will forever be a black mark marring China’s reputation under international law and global human rights standards.

“As President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, Liu Xiaobo was a friend and compatriot for writers all over the world who struggle against tyranny using words as their sole weapon. Liu Xiaobo’s purported crime was no crime at all, but rather a visionary exposition on the potential future of a country he loved.

“For the act of penning seven sentences, China punished Liu Xiaobo with a long prison term, limiting his access to state-of-the-art medical care that might have prevented his illness or improved his prognosis. China’s refusal to honor Liu Xiaobo’s last wish to travel overseas for treatment and its decision to hold him incommunicado during his dying days are a cruel epitaph in the tale of a powerful regime’s determination to crush a brave man who dared challenge a government that sustains its rule through suppression and fear. Liu Xiaobo was not afraid. His courage in life and in death is an inspiration to those who stand for freedom in China and everywhere.

“Our thoughts are with Liu Xiaobo’s family and friends, especially his beloved wife, the poet Liu Xia, who has been kept under house arrest, harassed, and hounded for years without charge. The only thing the Chinese government can do now to expiate its complicity in the death of Liu Xiaobo is to grant his wife, Liu Xia, the freedoms in life that her husband gained only in death. PEN America calls on China to immediately grant Liu Xia freedom of movement, expression, and travel lest their crimes against Liu Xiaobo claim a second victim.”

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. The organization 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.