June 16, 2014

#KeepingScore at the World Cup highlights writers under threat


One of the cards from the Keeping Score campaign.

One of the cards from the Keeping Score campaign.

At a moment when the world’s attention is focused on World Cup results, English PEN has launched a campaign to draw attention to other numbers: the number of journalists and writers under threat in countries competing in the Cup.

Called “Keeping Score,” the campaign calls out twelve countries for their records on freedom of expression and summarizes them on soccer-themed cards. For each entry, there’s more extensive information on PEN’s site: lists of cases underway, writers harassed, threatened, killed.

There’s a card for the host country—which a May 2014 report from the Committee to Protect Journalists put only one place behind Afghanistan on a list of the most dangerous countries for journalists—calling attention to the fact that 70% of the cases investigating the murders of Brazilian journalists and bloggers over the past twenty years haven’t been resolved.

Among them are the cases of journalist Rodrigo Neto De Faria and photographer Walgney Carvalho, who had worked together on articles exposing police corruption and were shot with the same gun a few weeks apart in April and March 2013. Journalists who reported on the protests in São Paulo last year also came under attack.

Other offenders include Mexico, Nigeria, Colombia, Russia, and Iran, as well as the US and England, for their mass surveillance programs. (Canada’s Supreme Court has just this week taken a significant step to protect its citizens’ privacy, ruling that ISPs do not have to hand over users’ names and addresses without a warrant. Once again, the northern border beckons.)

Some of these countries’ longstanding terrible treatment of journalists is widely known, but others will be less familiar. For instance, I didn’t know that the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, was in the habit of threatening political cartoonists, as in the case of Javier Bonilla, whose cartoons are published with the moniker “Bonil.” From the PEN site:

Javier BONILLA, profession: cartoonist for El Universo newspaper

Details of threat: He was reportedly threatened on the social media site Facebook after President Correa demanded an apology for a political cartoon published on 21 January 2013 during his re-election campaign. According to reports, the threats repeat much of the language used by the president to discredit the press.

Background: The president reportedly complained to the electoral commission about Bonilla’s cartoon, which suggested that the president had faked his kidnapping during the police rebellion of 30 September 2010, demanding a full apology from the newspaper. The newspaper responded by publishing the president’s letter of complaint in full in the Opinion section.

To participate in the campaign, you can share the cards on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #KeepingScore. PEN has also provided sample texts for tweets aimed at particular governments (@KremlinRussia_E, anyone?) or institutions.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.