To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, PEN International is launching its Women’s Manifesto, a set of principles aimed at combating the silencing of women worldwide, whether through censorship, harassment or violence. Drawn up by a group of leading literary figures, including Ellah Allfrey, Nina George, Caroline Criado Perez, Kamila Shamsie, Gillian Slovo and Gaby Wood, the manifesto builds on PEN’s charter, which states that ‘literature knows no frontiers’.
The introduction to the manifesto declares, ‘For women to have free speech, the right to read, the right to write, they need to have the right to roam physically, socially and intellectually. There are few social systems that do not regard with hostility a woman who walks by herself.’
The case of Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian poet, photographer and activist, offers an example of the kinds of issues the manifesto seeks to highlight and address. Tatour is the author of a book of poetry, The Last Invasion, published in 2010, and the director of a short documentary. At 3am on 11 October 2015, she was arrested at her home by the Israeli authorities. They possessed neither a search nor an arrest warrant. Tatour spent three months in different Israeli prisons before being placed under house arrest outside Tel Aviv, where she was forced to wear an electronic surveillance device. Since July 2016, she has been under house arrest at her home in Reineh, a small Arab village near Nazareth.
The reason for Tatour’s detention appears to be her online posts. These include a comment on Facebook regarding a Palestinian woman who had recently been shot by Israeli police. Underneath a picture of the injured women, Tatour wrote: ‘I will be the next martyr.’ She also posted a video on her own YouTube channel in which she recited a poem entitled ‘Resist, My People, Resist Them’. The poem is set to music and includes footage of Palestinian youths throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. According to the indictment, at the time of her arrest the video had been viewed just 113 times.
On 2 November 2015, Tatour was charged with supporting a terrorist organisation under articles 4(b) and 4(g) of the Prevention of Terror Ordinance (1948), and multiple counts of ‘incitement to violence’ under article 144(d) of the penal code.
Tatour denies the charges and claims that the authorities have misconstrued the meaning of her posts and the poem. During the first session of Tatour’s trial on 13 April 2016, the policeman who had translated her poem for the court was called as a witness to explain the alleged incitement to violence contained in it. He reportedly cited his study of literature at school and his love of the Arabic language as appropriate qualifications for translating the poem. Tatour could not testify at a further hearing on 6 September 2016 because she was unable to obtain her own translator. She appeared in court again in November 2016. At this hearing she confirmed that she was the author of the poem ‘Resist, My People, Resist Them’ and responded to questions regarding her writing.
In March 2017, Dr Yoni Mendel, a respected literary translator, provided a translation of Tatour’s poem. This was substantively different from the prosecution’s translation. The defence presented evidence claiming that the charges against Tatour were based on a mistranslation and misinterpretation of her poem and posts. In April 2017, the prosecution and defence were given forty-five days to submit their case summaries. The verdict was due to be delivered at a hearing on 17 October 2017, but this was postponed. On 4 December 2017, an Israeli court in Nazareth rejected Tatour’s appeal for her house arrest to be lifted. She remains under house arrest at the time of writing, and has also been banned from accessing the internet or publishing any of her works. She is now able to leave the house, but is required to be chaperoned at all times.
PEN believes that Tatour has been targeted for her writing and activism. After representatives of the organisation visited her in October 2017, Tatour sent the following message:
As a detained poet, your support gave me a spark of hope that would never extinguish, and it confirmed that there is someone who works to protect the rights of the writer and the poet as a human being, and to ensure that the spark of creativity remains alight forever. Thank you PEN International. Thanks very much for visiting me, for your support, and standing by poets and writers who suffer and face imprisonment like myself solely for expressing their views through art.
Readers might like to send appeals condemning the Israeli court’s decision on 4 December to reject Dareen Tatour’s appeal to end her house arrest, expressing concern that she is being held in violation of her right to freedom of expression, and urging the authorities to release her from house arrest immediately and unconditionally and to drop all charges against her.
Appeals to be addressed to:
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
29 Salah al-Din Street, Jerusalem 91010, Israel
Fax: +972 2 628 5438
His Excellency Ambassador Mark Regev
Embassy of Israel
2 Palace Green, London W8 4QB
Fax: 020 7957 9555
Excerpt from ‘A Poet Behind Bars’ by Dareen Tatour, translated by Tariq al Haydar:
I am accused of words,
my pen the instrument.
Ink – blood of the heart – bears witness
and reads the charges.
Listen, my destiny, my life,
to what the judge said:
A poem stands accused,
my poem morphs into a crime.
In the land of freedom,
the artist’s fate is prison.