At the end of 1990, the Fund for Free Expression had a change in leadership, as its longtime chairman and executive director assumed new positions on the Fund's board. The Fund has also begun a more comprehensive program to monitor and protect freedom of expression around the world and in the United States.
The Fund for Free Expression was founded in 1975, under the leadership of Robert L. Bernstein, as a group of writers, editors, publishers, attorneys and civic leaders concerned with human rights abuses. The Fund was the parent organization of Helsinki Watch, founded in 1978, and Americas Watch, founded in 1981. With the more recent establishment of Asia Watch, Africa Watch and Middle East Watch, and with the creation in 1987 of a new parent organization, Human Rights Watch, the Fund's focus shifted to special projects -- for example, joining with the Association of American Publishers in sponsoring US exhibits at Moscow Book Fairs and undertaking a mission to South Africa to assess the impact of the inclusion of books and educational materials in the trade embargo. The Fund has also served as the United States sponsor of international anti-censorship organizations such as ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship.
The Fund's expanded program will address freedom-of-expression issues that cut across country lines, working closely with the five regional divisions of Human Rights Watch and with other organizations in the field. It will undertake a series of projects focused on the relationship between curbs on free expression and various global social problems -- such as AIDS, famine and attacks on the environment -- with the goal of establishing censorship and information policies as an important element in the debates about these issues. For example, as Helsinki Watch has documented, the appalling number of pediatric AIDS cases in Romania grows directly out of the Ceausescu regime's refusal to acknowledge even the existence of AIDS, and its efforts to impede the exchange of information among physicians. As Africa Watch and ARTICLE 19 have reported, famine is often less the result of natural disasters than of misguided governmental policies that go unexamined because of curbs on the press and other democratic institutions.
The first such global study by the Fund for Free Expression, examining the link between censorship and governmental corruption in selected countries, will be the subject of a newsletter early in 1991.
The Fund will also expand its work in the United States. In 1990, Congress came within a few votes of amending the First Amendment to punish flag-burning; there were criminal charges filed against the director of an art museum in Cincinnati and a rap group in Florida; and the National Endowment for the Arts barely survived after a barrage of criticism over grants for allegedly obscene or politically controversial work. In such a climate, it is important and timely for the Fund to establish a more visible and aggressive presence on US free speech issues.
Reflecting its unique status as a component of a worldwide human rights organization, the Fund's domestic priorities will be to bring an international perspective to bear on American censorship controversies and to monitor US government efforts to restrict the "free trade of ideas" -- for instance, censorship of books and magazines sent to US troops in the Persian Gulf, or exclusion of foreign visitors on the basis of their viewpoints and political activities. The Fund will also undertake a series of reports on selected US freedom-of-expression issues, such as the effect of restrictive court decisions on the freedom of the student press, or curbs on government funding of the arts.
The Fund will also undertake special projects relating to freedom of expression. The first of these is to assist in the creation of a new organization of American academic leaders concerned about abuses of academic freedom and other human rights of their colleagues around the world. While educators are heavily represented among the world's political detainees, and universities are at special risk from repressive regimes, teachers and scholars have to date lacked a broadly based group to focus on their human rights problems, to keep the academic community informed about abuses, and to encourage a greater sense of responsibility among academics to act in such matters.
In addition to its other work, the Fund for Free Expression administers grants to writers in financial need as a result of political persecution, under the terms of legacies from the estates of the late writers Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett. In 1990, seventeen grants of $10,000 each were awarded to writers from Afghanistan, China, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malawi, Romania, the United States and several other countries.
The Fund's new chairman is Roland Algrant, succeeding Founding Chairman Robert L. Bernstein. Its new executive director is Gara LaMarche, succeeding Sophie C. Silberberg, who was named along with Robert Wedgeworth as new Vice-Chairs of the Fund. Lydia Lobenthal is the Fund's associate.