Happenings at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh: Assembly of the International Cities of Refuge Network

by Brian Honigman    /  June 8, 2010  / No comments

Photo: © ExpressionForum.org

This past week City of Asylum/Pittsburgh founder Henry Reese attended, as an observer, the fifth General Assembly of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) in Frankfurt, Germany.

ICORN is an association of cities and regions around the world dedicated to preserving freedom of expression where it is endangered. Writers have consistently been targets of politically motivated threats and persecution, and ICORN believes it is necessary for the international community to respond to this persecution. There were 29 member cities present, known as cities of refuge, and 90 attendees at the General Assembly.

ICORN set its strategic plan for the next two years, ratified its charter, and renewed its sense of moral purpose with a series of readings and panels by writers from the member cities and writers invited by Litprom, which was celebrating its 30th anniversary. Writers included Ilija Trojanow, Easterine Iralu, Faraj Bayrakdar, Mansur Rajih, Fatima Mernissi, Uday Prakash, Herrad Schenk, Carmen Francesca Banciu, Pegah Ahmadi, Carlos Aguilera, and former City of Asylum/Pittsburgh’s writer-in-residence Horacio Castellanos Moya.

There were also global status reports on How Free is the Word by Sara Whyatt of International PEN and Larry Siems of PEN American Center. They noted that China and Iran continue to imprison the most writers and that countries in the former Soviet Union are increasingly reverting to Soviet-style repression. They also noted that applications to ICORN are often a leading edge for future hot spots, so they expressed concern that the number of applications from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have begun to rise. Conversely, the number of applicants coming from Iraq has began to fall, a hopeful sign.

Heidi Hautala, the Chairwoman of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, addressed the ICORN’s assembly by video. She made a strong case for ICORN’s role in the ecology of freedom.

“As the need to gear up the protection of human rights defenders remains high, the contribution of ICORN remains vital”, she said. “ICORN understands the true nature of human rights defenders – yes, they are oftentimes victims, but they are most often above everything else advocates of freedom of speech; writers, artists, directors, free thinkers. Simply removing them from the situation is victory for the oppressor who defies progress. Their voices must continue to be heard not only until they and their families are in safety but to the very end until the oppression stops.” Source: Heidi Hautala/ICORN.org

It was important for COA/P to be a part of this General Assembly because we were able to observe what our peers around the world are doing, get the benefits of their experiences, and establish relationships with other people who have expertise we need. Already documentary filmmaker Ronald Bos, member of the Dutch PEN board and the inter-cultural consultant for the Dutch Foundation for Literature, has used his network of translators in uncommon languages to help us on a project.

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