(NEW YORK) – On the 42nd anniversary of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, PEN America calls for the global release of all writers currently imprisoned as a result of their work. PEN America urges the international community to implement practical and viable mechanisms to protect any writer under threat as a result of their work and invites all supporters to share social media posts to express their support for #FreedomToWrite.

“Authoritarian governments instinctively fear writers because of their ability to inspire citizens to interrogate the present and dream of a better future,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s Writers at Risk program. “Instead of valuing the positive role writers can play in breaking down mental barriers between people and inspiring collaboration and understanding, repressive authorities choose to silence them. This is a crime against the individual and an injustice for all of us. All governments must respect the universal right to free expression and immediately release any writers incarcerated for their work.”

“PEN America supports the development of an international framework to protect writers from persecution. Such a mechanism should encompass both immediate support for writers at risk, including the provision of emergency visas for those forced to flee, and longer-term assistance through partnerships with civil society organizations and academic institutions offering fellowships, scholarships, and other professional support for writers in exile.”

Selected cases PEN America is highlighting on this day include:

  • Nobel Peace Prize winner and PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write honoree Narges Mohammadi, jailed on multiple charges and serving several decades-long sentences in Iran. At the moment, Mohammadi is being denied essential medical care for a serious heart and pulmonary condition due to her refusal to wear the mandatory hijab.
  • Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy, has been held for over five years despite having already served his full sentence. In his desperation, El-Behairy attempted to take his own life on September 9, 2023. Also in Egypt, jailed blogger and activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah turns 42 this Saturday, the 10th birthday he has spent behind bars for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.
  • PEN America is also joining with PEN International and the global PEN network to take action on the cases of María Cristina Garrido Rodríguez (Cuba), Iryna Danylovych (Ukraine/occupied Crimea), Go Sherab Gyatso (China-Tibet), and Soulaiman Raissouni (Morocco).

The alarming number of writers around the world who face serious threats, including years of imprisonment, for speaking out against injustice continues to grow. Many of these writers are subjected to torture and abuse, poor prison conditions, denial of medical care, and are prevented from contact with their families and lawyers. According to the latest PEN America Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, 311 writers were detained or imprisoned for their work. China topped the Index’s list of countries with 90 writers behind bars in 2022. Iran came in second, with 57 imprisoned writers–a significant increase from the prior year due to the pre-emptive crackdown on the creative sector–and Saudi Arabia ranked third, with 20 writers.

In New York, PEN America will mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer by hosting a conversation between Molly Crabapple and formerly jailed Egyptian writer Ahmed Naji, PEN America’s 2016 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Awardee. Naji’s newly released book, Rotten Evidence: Reading and Writing in an Egyptian Prison, documents his months spent in Egypt’s Tora prison. Tickets are available here.