In the past decade, the use of the Internet has risen to phenomenal proportions  transforming societies world wide. It enjoys huge popular support, with a growth in web sites, webzines and on-line chat-rooms in which individuals can swap information and ideas.  In many countries around the world dissident communities have seized on the Internet with enthusiasm as a method of expressing their views about their governments and launching campaigns for political reform. Very often, traditional print-forms of communication, such as journals, have been banned. The Internet can then promise unfettered exchanges of opinions.  ‘Cyberdissent’ has become the samizdat of the 21st century. The issue is especially pertinent in 2005 as preparations are under way for the World Summit on Information Society, to be held in November in Tunisia, a country not known for its tolerance of dissenting views.

Women who use the internet to disseminate their ideas have found themselves caught up in some governments’ often harsh attempts to control information exchange on the world wide web.  To mark this year’s Women’s Day on March 8, and looking towards the Tunis Summit, PEN is focussing on three cases of women under attack for using new information technology to challenge their governments.

This year PEN is focussing on three women under attack for using the internet to disseminate information and ideas:

In Tunisia, the editor of an online magazine and fearless defender  of human rights, Sihem Bensedrine,  has suffered years of harassment and attack;

Two women, Mahboudeh Abbasgholizadeh and Fershteh Ghazi, were caught up in a crackdown against internet users in Iran, suffering torture and abuse;

In China, Ma Yaliang has been in prison for over a year for articles posted on the internet.

On March 8, PEN members world-wide will commemorate the courage of these women, and all others women writers and journalists who are detained and under attack today for practising their right to freedom of expression. Writers world wide will send protests to the Tunisian, Iranian and Chinese authorities to stop the attacks against women who speak out and to end suppression of cyberdissidents.

For further information contact  International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, 9/10 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London EC1M 7AT, U.K.

Tel: +44 (0)207 253 3226, fax: +44 (0)207 253 5711, e-mail:

In September 2004, the Iranian government authorities began a clamp-down on this method of communication also, and around 25 cyber dissidents were arrested.

Ma Yalian was sentenced to 18 months’ “Re-education Through Labour (RTL)” in March 2004 for an article she wrote in which she criticised the Chinese Petitioning system.

Bensedrine has suffered constant persecution by the Tunisian authorities over many years for simply pursuing her right to freedom of expression.  

International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, 9/10 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London EC1M 7AT, U.K.

Tel: +44 (0)207 253 3226, fax: +44 (0)207 253 5711,