30 October 2001


The International Parliament of Writers' (IPW) "Cities of Asylum" network - created in1994 to give safe refuge to persecuted writers - "does not work" and is in need of change, concludes a report recently released by the Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression (NFFE).

Based on a survey of seven European cities - Amsterdam, Berlin, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Oslo, Stavanger and Kristiansand - out of a possible 20 in the network whose officials NFFE was able to interview, the report finds that the majority of city officials were "very critical [of] the work carried out by the IPW."

According to NFFE, IPW staff refused to cooperate on the survey and share their updated information. "It is strikingly absurd that an organisation of famous writers, which one should think fosters the idea of freedom of expression and free flow of information, is unable to inform and unwilling to share information," says NFFE. A key concern of network members was the lack of information sharing and absence of contact between cities.

NFFE suggests that an alternative network be formed, which prioritises information exchange, facilitates networking between participating writers and cities, and improves feedback mechanisms at all levels.

The IPW was established in 1993 during a campaign to defend British writer Salman Rushdie from a "fatwah" issued against him by former Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Made up of 20 cities throughout Europe, the network's intent is to provide a safe residence and temporary financial assistance to writers who are forced to escape their home countries because of threats to their lives. In recent years, the network has spread to Brazil and Mexico, where ten cities are set to become members.

To obtain a full copy of the report, contact:
nfy@nffe.no; Fax + 47 2330 1101. After November 1, contact Carl Morten Iversen at the Norwegian PEN Centre: Tel: +47 2330 1120.

On 19 October, NFFE ceased operations after six years of actively promoting freedom of expression in Norway. Originally formed in 1995 by 15 member organisations to "promote the observance of the internationally recognised article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights," NFFE had grown to 18 members and 20 supporting organisations by the time it decided to close down.

Norwegian PEN will be taking up many of the network's tasks and will apply for IFEX membership at next year's annual general meeting in Ghana. Until further notice, NFFE's e-mail address (
nfy@nffe.no) will be working, as will its telephone and fax numbers.

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