PEN spotlighted widespread censorship and threats to writers in Nigeria and China in its submissions to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review last week. The briefs create a vital human rights record for each country and will be compiled with other reports from civil society groups before a formal review by the Human Rights Council in October 2013.

In a joint submission on Nigeria with PEN Nigeria, Committee to Protect Journalists, and International Publishers Association, PEN identified ongoing threats to journalists in the country, who may be harassed, threatened, or killed. The government maintains strict control over radio and television broadcasting and grants few licenses to independent community radio stations. The militant Islamist sect Boko Haram has also threatened and killed journalists reporting on their activities. Not only have these journalists lacked adequate protection from the state, government authorities have accused them of supporting Boko Haram, exposing them to danger from both sides.

Nine states in Nigeria have adopted Sharia law into their penal code, despite clear conflicts with the federal constitution, and censorship in these states is rampant. Works from Nigeria’s booming Nollywood film industry, the third largest in the world, are routinely censored by state government boards, which operate roving mobile courts that can fine or jail creative artists within an hour. Online expression in Nigeria, by contrast, is largely uncensored and unfiltered, a positive sign for digital freedom in a country that is increasingly accessing the internet—especially through mobile phones.

In China, the government has continued to jail writers, journalists, and bloggers simply for their writings, and the sentences it has imposed on them have remained consistently harsh. Authorities have also carried out a series of crackdowns aimed at silencing critical voices that have included not just arrests and prosecutions but also beatings, forced disappearances, and arbitrary detentions. In the realm of book publishing, state-owned publishing houses still censor works, and the government also exerts considerable control over a growing private-sector publishing industry through the allocation of ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers), fostering a culture of self-censorship among independent publishers.

Chinese authorities have also carried out what it calls a “stability maintenance” program over the last several years, the main feature of which is a comprehensive Internet censorship and surveillance regime that directly violates the right of all China’s citizens to “seek, receive, and impart information through any media regardless of frontiers.” Finally, PEN has seen a direct threat to the diversity of language throughout the People’s Republic. Linguistic rights in Tibet and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region are of particular concern as Mandarin continues to be implemented as the primary language of instruction in schools.

The Human Rights Council reviews the human rights record of each member of the UN every four years. In October 2013, Nigeria and China will report on human rights in their respective countries and receive recommendations from members of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. PEN also submitted a brief on Mexico, which will be reviewed during the same session of the Universal Periodic Review.

Read PEN’s submission on Nigeria here.

Read PEN’s submission on China here.