PEN International Commemorates 50 Years of Work on Day of the Imprisoned Writer
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
London, November 15, 2010—The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International commemorates its 50th year in 2010 on the International Day of the Imprisoned Writer, and pays tribute to 41 writers around the world who have been killed in the last year.
“The Writers in Prison Committee has played a leading role in documenting human rights abuses experienced by writers across the globe for half a century,” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee. “On November 15 we draw attention to current urgent situations, while recalling hundreds and hundreds of cases of individuals who have been imprisoned, harassed, physically assaulted or even murdered, simply because they have exercised their right to freely express their thoughts and ideas.”
The awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, founding president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, gives this year’s anniversary a special pertinence, continues Botsford Fraser: “On the one hand, we celebrate the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to our PEN colleague Liu Xiaobo for his dedication to free expression and democracy in China. But, on the other hand, Mr. Liu is publicly denounced as a criminal and is serving an 11-year sentence, along with almost 40 other Chinese writers. Since the announcement of the award in early October, the detention and harassment of Chinese dissidents has escalated alarmingly.”
Elsewhere, the dangerous situation for writers and journalists in Mexico continues—nine have been killed just this year. In Iran, the WiPC has 37 recorded cases of writers, bloggers and journalists currently imprisoned. In the past year, four journalists have been killed in Pakistan, three in Nigeria.
Throughout 2010, PEN centers are casting a spotlight on current and previous WiPC work, with special projects, books, awards and events. For example, German Writers Abroad will host an event in Berlin on November 15, focusing on the work of Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievitch, who is unable to publish in her own country. Catalan PEN and Swedish PEN announce the winners of PEN awards. In Scotland and Australia, PEN centers have held exhibitions of different “empty chairs,” evoking the absence of those many writers from the public sphere because they are imprisoned. Cuban and Chinese PEN members living in exile from their respective countries have translated various writings and profiles of imprisoned writers into Spanish and Chinese. English PEN and Italian PEN are publishing collections of articles on the themes of free expression and literature.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the WiPC, PEN International President John Ralston Saul also offers a comment: “For 50 years, the WiPC at PEN International has led the human rights community worldwide in tracking the status of writers in danger and in prison and working for their freedom and safety. In spite of our continual successes, the list of those in danger remains unconscionably long. And so the work of WIPC is, if anything, more important than ever.”
The Writers in Prison Committee was formed in 1960 at a PEN International Congress in Brazil as a result of mounting concern about attempts to silence critical voices around the world. These included cases of writers incarcerated, killed or disappeared in fascist regimes in Europe, across the communist bloc and in post-colonial countries.
The Writers in Prison Committee alerts the PEN Membership around the world to cases and coordinates advocacy activities on behalf of these cases. Strategies include letter writing, lobbying governments and international human rights bodies and raising awareness. PEN Members also provide enormous encouragement and hope to imprisoned writers by communicating directly with them and offering support to their families.
For the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, on November 15, 2010, the WiPC is highlighting five specific cases of writers sentenced, murdered or otherwise in danger. These are:
• Hossein Derakshan, a blogger sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in Iran;
• Robert Mintya, a Cameroonian newspaper editor currently awaiting trial and suffering poor health after being attacked in prison;
• Tal Al-Mallouhi, a 19 year-old Syrian blogger, poet and high school student, who is said to be facing charges of espionage and who has been held incommunicado in Damascus since December 27, 2009;
• Dilmurod Saidov, an independent Uzbekistani journalist who is serving 12 years in prison on extortion charges widely thought to have been fabricated, and who has not received medical treatment for tuberculosis; and
• José Bladimir Antuna García, a journalist murdered in Mexico in November 2009 whose killers have never been identified or prosecuted.
Since November 15, 2009, 41 writers have been killed in countries such as Mexico (10), Pakistan (four) and Nigeria (three). Click here for a complete list.
The WiPC has also created a list of 50 emblematic cases reflecting the Committee’s work since 1960. For more information on all these cases, visit: www.internationalpen.org.uk
PEN International celebrates literature and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, its global community of writers now spans more than 100 countries. PEN programs, campaigns, events and publications connect writers and readers wherever they are in the world.
Sara Whyatt, Writers in Prison Committee Program Director, PEN International, +44 20 7405 0338