In 1995, the Free Expression Project focused on promoting freedom of expression principles and standards in "cyberspace," and, joined by the Association of American Publishers, investigated freedom of expression in Albania and Cuba. (More detailed accounts of those investigations are found in the Helsinki and Americas sections of this report.) The Project also managed the work of the Committee for International Academic Freedom and administered the Hellman/Hammett grants to writers who have been victimized by political persecution.
Free Expression in "Cyberspace"
Prior to the G-7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society held in Brussels on February 25 and 26, 1995, the Free Expression Project prepared a letter, co-signed by other U.S. and international civil liberties groups, to Vice President Al Gore, who represented the United States at the summit. The letter to Vice President Gore, who had initially called for the conference to formulate a unified policy for building a "global information infrastructure" (GII), urged him to press the G-7 ministers to adhere to international free expression principles in any multilateral agreement regarding the development, content, control, and deployment of the proposed GII. The letter noted the extraordinary opportunity presented by new communications technologies to "motivate citizens to become more involved in decision-making at local and global levels as they organize, debate and share information unrestricted by geographic distances or national borders." It called upon the United States to work against any censorship and to promote diverse ideas and viewpoints on the GII. In particular, the letter called for a prohibition on prior censorship of online communications and for limiting restrictions of online speech to expression that directly and immediately incites acts of violence. The letter also called for nondiscriminatory access to online technology and enforceable legal protections against unauthorized scrutiny and use by private or public entities of personal information on the GII.
Following receipt of the letter, Mr. Gore's prepared remarks were amended to include support for free expression standards.
In addition to offering financial assistance, the Hellman/Hammett grants publicize individual cases, helping focus attention on repression and censorship around the world. In some cases, however, writers must request anonymity because of the dangerous circumstances in which they and their families are living.
The 1995 recipients, a diverse group of forty-eight poets, novelists and journalists from twenty-three countries, received grants totaling about $175,000. There were four recipients from Vietnam, four from Iran, eight from countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, and thirteen recipients from the Peoples Republic of China. The recipients include: Kenneth Best, founder of Liberia's first independent newspaper, who was imprisoned three times and deported to two countries before coming to the United States, where he is working to return to Liberia; Fatos Lubonja, an Albanian writer imprisoned for seventeen years after the government declared his writings "decadent"; Father Ricardo Rezende, a Brazilian parish priest and author whose work with landless rural workers has put his name on a "death list"; Mumia Abu-Jamal, a U.S. journalist on death row in Pennsylvania, who was convicted of killing a police officer in a trial that raises questions about fairness, especially during the sentencing phase which relied heavily on information about Jamal's political associations and beliefs; Bonor Tigor Naipospos, an Indonesian journalist sentenced to eight and one- half years in prison on charges that included expressing Marxist views in his writing; and Koigi wa Wamwere, poet, novelist and journalist,who was arrested and charged with treason for articles deemed "seditious" by the state. The three recipients from Turkey_Fikret Baskaya, Ismet G. Imset, and Aysenur Zarakolu_all wrote or spoke out about the country's Kurdish minority.
Human Rights Watch awarded the annual Hellman/Hammett grants after nominations were reviewed by a five-person selection committee composed of writers and editors who are members of the Free Expression Project advisory committee. In the course of the year, the selection committee approved an additional ten grants to writers who needed emergency funds to help them leave countries where they were in immediate danger or to provide urgently needed medical or legal assistance.
The Free Expression Project also wrote protest letters on behalf of writers in Burma, Pakistan and Sierra Leone who had received Hellman/Hammett grants in prior years and were being persecuted again in 1995.
Committee for International Academic Freedom
In 1995, the Committee wrote about situations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Burma, Israel, Bahrain and Tunisia. Two letters were sent to Cuban President Castro, one protesting the firing of six professors who had written about the relationship between the country's economic plight and emigration, and the second protesting the denial of exit visas to four other professors who were scheduled to present papers at the annual meeting of the Latin American Studies Association. The Committee urged Israeli President Rabin to establish a process for issuing travel permits to students who live in Gaza while attending schools in the West Bank and followed up seven months later after a new term had started and guidelines for student travel permits still had not been defined. Other Committee letters dealt with the "disappearance" of a lecturer at the Autonomous University of Santa Domingo; the harassment of Dr. Moncef Marzouki of the Medical School in Sousse, Tunisia; the suspension of Associate Professor of Sociology Munira Ahmed Fakhro after she signed the "Bahraini Women's Petition"; and the arrest of a Burmese student whose private letters were characterized as "incriminating documents."
The Committee is composed of twenty-three university presidents and scholars and co-chaired by Jonathan Fanton of the New School for Social Research, Hanna Holborn Gray of the University of Chicago, Vartan Gregorian of Brown University and Charles Young of the University of California at Los Angeles.