Imprisoned but not silenced: On Day of the Imprisoned Writer PEN stands in solidarity with writers imprisoned for their work
This blog originally appeared on the website of PEN International.
15 November 2016 —Each year, on 15 November, PEN International, PEN Centres and PEN members from around the world commemorate the Day of the Imprisoned Writer to highlight and campaign on behalf of writers who face unjust imprisonment, attacks, harassment and violence simply for expressing themselves. Started in 1981 by PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, the day is marked by celebrating the freedom to write, and by taking action to call for justice and freedom for imprisoned and murdered colleagues. Since 15 November 2015 at least 35 writers have been killed worldwide as a result of their work.
Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said: ‘Writers should be writing when they want to write. They should not be in prison. And yet, around the world, hundreds of writers are in jail today, and many more face intimidation and persecution because what they express upsets the authorities, offends the powerful, and unnerves governments. Writers are the conscience-keepers of society; they must remain free – their place is not in prison, but with pen and paper, with typewriters, with their keyboards. And on this day, every year, the entire PEN community says in one voice that we will continue to fight for freedom for any writer, anywhere in the world, who is prevented from doing his or her work. ‘
Each year, PEN International focuses its campaigning on five cases that are emblematic of the kinds of challenges and dangers writers face simply in the course of carrying out their free expression work. This year PEN is campaigning on behalf of:
- Ahmed Naji (Egypt)—Novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for ‘violating public modesty’ in relation to the publication of excerpts from his 2014 novel Istikhdam al-Hayat (The Use of Life) in Akhbar al-Adab magazine, also in 2014. Naji has now served almost eight months of his sentence.
- Aslı Erdoğan (Turkey)—Renowned novelist and PEN member Aslı Erdoğan was arrested at her home in Istanbul on 17 August 2016. She was sent to a prison in Istanbul on preliminary charges of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “undermining national unity.” She has been in pre-trial detention since her arrest, and as of 15 November, no date has been set for her trial.
- Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa (Honduras)—Journalism graduate, student leader, and board member and founding member of PEN Honduras, Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa has faced prosecution, threats and harassment for his part in on-going student protests at the state National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa since 2014.
- Dareen Tatour (Israel)—A poet and a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Dareen Tatour is currently standing trial on charges of “support for a terrorist organisation” and several counts of incitement to violence in connection with her poetry and social media activity. Tatour was detained over a year ago and is currently under house arrest.
- Gui Minhai(China)—In October 2015, publisher Gui Minhai disappeared from his holiday home in Thailand. Three months later he appeared in a televised ‘confession’ on state-controlled TV claiming that he had voluntarily surrendered himself to the Chinese authorities over his supposed involvement in a fatal hit-and-run incident in December 2003. Since then, his whereabouts have been unknown; he has reportedly not had access to legal counsel and has been allowed no contact with his daughter who lives in the UK.
As part of PEN’s campaign this year, renowned writers Hanan Al-Shaykh, Margaret Atwood, Gioconda Belli, Jennifer Clement and Salil Tripathi have sent messages of solidarity to these five writers.
‘Like you, I and many, many other writers believe that literature can inspire the longing for justice, can generate tolerance, and can expand human sympathy and understanding. Although you are in prison, you are not alone: you have the entire PEN community of writers from around the world fighting for your freedom.’—extract from a letter from Margaret Atwood to imprisoned Turkish writer and PEN member Asli Erdogan.