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[VIRTUAL] Freedom to Write Index 2020: Tracking Jailed Writers and Public Intellectuals Around the World

During 2020, writers have played an essential role analyzing and critiquing government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, documenting personal experiences, and imagining different post-pandemic realities and futures in which greater rights and protections are enjoyed by broader swathes of the populace. The influential voices of writers are indispensable in helping us to find the path forward, and the freedom to write has never been more essential to defend. For political leaders with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, that power poses a threat. Authorities in democratic and authoritarian countries alike have constrained the individual freedom to write via legal charges and detention, trying to prevent voices and ideas from reaching and influencing a wider audience.

Join PEN America to discuss the Freedom to Write Index 2020, an annually published report that tracks writers and public intellectuals held in prison or detention around the world.

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PEN America’s Karin Deutsch Karlekar will speak about the Freedom to Write Index 2020’s findings, and will be joined by Bahram Sintash, son of Uyghur poet and journalist Qurban Mamut detained in Xinjiang in China; Volha Kalackaja, Belarusian writer and translator detained in 2021 following peaceful protests of the rigged presidential election of Alexander Lukashenka; and Aatish Taseer, a U.S.-based writer and journalist of Indian origin exiled from India in retaliation for his writing.

PEN America is deeply grateful to the John Templeton Foundation for its generous support of the Freedom to Write Index.


Speakers

Bahram K. Sintash is an artist, open-source researcher, multimedia designer, and the son of detained Uyghur poet and journalist Qurban Mamut. Sintash has advocated publicly for the release of his father and other people unjustly detained in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China since 2018, when Sintash first learned of Mamut’s detention. In November 2018, Sintash founded Uyghurism.com, a website devoted to preserving Uyghur culture for the next generation and which he initially created to preserve copies of Xinjiang Civilization, the popular cultural magazine at which Mamut served as editor-in-chief for nearly 30 years. Sintash’s own research has examined the cultural impact of the presence and destruction of Uyghur mosques and shrines.

Aatish Taseer is a writer, journalist, and author. In 2019, Taseer’s Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) status was revoked in retaliation for his TIME magazine cover story about Prime Minister Narendra Modi headlined “India’s Divider in Chief.” Since the Indian government has revoked his OCI status, Taseer has been exiled from India, where members of his family reside. Taseer has written Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands, an autobiography in which he reflects on his upbringing and identity. Taseer has also written several novels, including The Way Things Were, The Temple-Goers, and Noon. Taseer has written for The International New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and The Sunday Times, among other publications.

Volha Kalackaja is a Belarusian literary translator and English language tutor who was arrested in 2021 and ultimately convicted of “malicious hooliganism” for her protest of the neither free nor fair election of Alexander Lukashenka. Kalackaja has translated works by Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Tennessee Williams, and William Golding into Belarusian. She has also provided translations for films and cartoons.

Karin Deutsch Karlekar headshotKarin Deutsch Karlekar is the director of PEN America’s Free Expression at Risk Programs, and leads PEN America’s assistance to individuals at risk as a result of their expression and an ongoing partnership with PEN Myanmar. She has two decades of experience in global free expression, press freedom, and digital rights issues, as well as advocacy and assistance work on behalf of writers, bloggers, and journalists. In addition to acting as an expert spokesperson on press freedom issues at conferences, meetings, and in media appearances, Dr. Karlekar has developed index methodologies and conducted training sessions on press freedom, internet freedom, freedom of expression, and monitoring dangerous speech; authored a number of special reports and academic papers; and conducted research, assessment, and advocacy missions to Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Moderator

Stephen Fee headshot

Stephen Fee is the senior director of communications and marketing at PEN America, overseeing media relations, digital communications, social media, branding, and publications. In addition to his work in nonprofit communications, he had a career as an on-air correspondent and producer at PBS NewsHour—reporting investigative stories from across the United States as well as Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East—and as a United Nations and general assignment correspondent for global news agency Feature Story News. In addition to PBS, his reporting has appeared on France24, SABC South Africa, Radio New Zealand, CGTN America, and Channel NewsAsia.

Belarusian protesters in background; on top: “I Support PEN Belarus” and PEN America logo

Our sister organization PEN Belarus has spent years uplifting writers and supporting the freedom to write. Now, the government is trying to shut them down. Show your support and tell them they’re not alone.

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