Commemorating not only the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, but also the late President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, we are reminded of the significance of freedom of speech and the free flow of ideas; of the fact that words and ideas can change the world. With Mandela as model, President Obama pointed out in his speech to the South African people and the international community, that “ideas cannot be contained within prison walls”.
Today our means to communicate ideas with the world are practically unlimited, even from prison or exile. The digital shift has given voice to many whose voices might have been silenced in other ways. But it also offers governments and fanatic groups access to tools, which allow them to watch each step that we take, and makes it a potential dangerous space for many writers to navigate in.
Writers against surveillance
On International Human Rights Day 10 December, a group of 560 authors from 83 countries launched a global appeal in defence of civil liberties in the digital age - an appeal against mass surveillance.
5 Nobel Prize winners have signed: Orhan Pamuk, J.M. Coetzee, Elfriede Jelinek, Günter Grass and Tomas Tranströmer. Amongst the signatories are also Umberto Eco, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Daniel Kehlmann, Nawal El Saadawi, Arundhati Roy, Henning Mankell, Richard Ford, Javier Marias, Björk, David Grossman, Arnon Grünberg, Angeles Mastretta, Juan Goytisolo, Nuruddin Farah, João Ribeiro, Victor Erofeyev, Liao Yiwu and David Malouf.
Many distinguished writers closely connected to ICORN have signed the appeal as well: Sjon, Anna Funder, John Ralston Saul, David Grossman and Ilija Trojanow (co-writer of the petition together with Juli Zeh). Hector Abad. Earlier this year, Anna Funder held the annual ICORN lecture at the Kapittel Festival titled; "Where does courage come from?", with oppression, censorship and surveillance as main themes.
Join the call
The authors are asking people around the world to join their call by signing on to their public pledge against surveillance at Change.org/surveillance. The full list of writer signatories can be viewed there as well.
The initiative called “Writers Against Mass Surveillance” published a pledge demanding that “all states and corporations” respect the right "for all people, as democratic citizens, to determine to what extent their personal data may be collected, stored and processed.”
To protect civil rights in the digital age, the authors are also urging the United Nations “to create an International Bill of Digital Rights.”
"Surveillance violates the private sphere and compromises freedom of thought and we no longer want to watch decision makers refuse to take action,” says German writer Juli Zeh. “We all have to take a stand now, and we as writers are doing what we can do best: using the written word to intervene publicly.”
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
- Article 19 in the UN Human Rights Declaration