New York, August 7, 2000 —To protest the repression of writers in Serbia, Homero Aridjis, the President of International PEN, is refusing the “Smederevo Golden Key” literary prize at the Smederevo Fall Poetry Festival (Belgrade, October 2000).
Mr. Aridjis, internationally acclaimed Mexican poet and a columnist for the daily Reforma, was invited to come to Smederevo to receive the prestigious poetry award as the focus of the international poetry festival, and to participate in a six day International Writers’ Meeting that immediately follows in Belgrade. The Austrian poet Peter Handke accepted the prize in 1998.
“So long as my fellow writers languish in Serbian prisons, I feel that I have no choice but to decline this great honor,” said Mr. Aridjis. PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) are particularly concerned about the welfare of imprisoned poet Dr. Flora Brovina, author Boban Miletic, and journalist Miroslav Filipovic.
Dr. Flora Brovina, an Honorary PEN Member and recipient of the 2000 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom-to-Write Award, was arrested in Kosovo and charged with committing terrorist acts. She had remained in Pristina during the war in order to run a medical clinic for women and children. A popular poet and outspoken leader for women’s rights, Dr. Brovina is currently serving a twelve year sentence in a Serbian jail. Although her sentence was recently reversed by the Supreme Court, she remains in detention pending reconsideration of her case by a lower court.
Boban Miletic, the author of Weep Mother Serbia, Weep, was given a five month sentence on June 10, 2000. Miletic was charged with ridiculing Yugoslavia and President Slobodan Milosevic during a December 1999 literary evening during which he read from his book and distributed copies. The prosecutor in his case has announced an appeal for a heavier sentence.
Journalist Miroslav Filipovic, who writes for the independent Yugoslavia daily Danas; the French news agency Agence France-Presse; and the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment last month for his conviction on charges of espionage and spreading false information. Filipovic’s conviction resulted from his reporting on alleged Yugoslav army atrocities committed against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999. Filipovic was tried by a military court, and is in prison in Nis while his conviction is appealed.
“When these and all writers in Serbia are free from censorship and imprisonment,” said Mr. Aridjis, ” I will gladly accept such an award in celebration of literary achievement and freedom of expression.”