Writers around the world in International PEN are commemorating today the life and death of Nigerian writer Ken Saro Wiwa, who was executed ten years ago on November 10, 1995. The Nigerian author, environmental and Ogoni rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged by the regime of Sani Abacha, along with eight other Ogoni activists. At the time International PEN’s global membership joined governments and environmentalists to call for reprieve. Saro-Wiwa’s death remains profoundly and deeply shocking. (For details of the campaign go to www.internationalpen.org.uk)

Femi Osofisan, President of the Nigerian Center of International PEN speaks of the impact that Ken Saro Wiwa still has in Nigeria today: “Because of Ken Saro-Wiwa, as we can see, the gaze of the whole world is now focussing on Ogoni land, and on the entire Delta area where the oil is being produced. Already, with the civilian government now in place we can see measures being taken gradually to alleviate the pains of the Delta  people.

These measures are of course neither comprehensive nor sufficient yet to appease the ghosts of Saro-Wiwa and his fellow martyrs, who have perished in the bitter fight. International PEN has been with this struggle right from the start, and has been an unflinching ally of our brother, Ken Saro-Wiwa.”

Karin Clark, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN sees that there is more to do: “Looking back over the past ten years, writers around the world can see that Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death was not in vain. However there is still more duty that we owe to him. He was falsely convicted of murder, charges that are considered by the United Nations to be unjust and invalid and which led John Major, then British Prime Minister, to describe the executions of Saro-Wiwa and his co-defendants as “judicial murder”. Yet even today the conviction still stands. PEN will continue to call on the government of Nigeria to overturn the murder conviction against Saro-Wiwa, who was a victim of trumped-up charges meant to silence him for his outspoken views. This move on the part of Nigeria is long overdue and would constitute a significant gesture of reconciliation and a symbol to honour the memory of this courageous man.”

Though the situation has improved in Nigeria, worldwide there remain hundreds of writers, journalists, poets and publishers who are suffering repression and imprisonment. International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, which monitors and stages campaigns on behalf of persecuted writers has recorded over 700 attacks in the first half of this year. These include 140 people detained solely because they expressed their opinions. Other attacks include threats, beatings, persistent harassment, and even killings. Since November last year, 31 have been killed.

In mid-November each year, PEN members worldwide focus particular attention on their fellow writers under attack. Appeals are sent to governments, articles written, events staged in honour of individuals who have faced oppression and other actions. This year, as well as celebrating the life of Ken Saro-Wiwa, PEN members will be honoring those who are under repression today. To illustrate the problems faced, five cases are being highlighted:

Paul Kamara, a journalist serving a two year sentence, incommunicado, for writing about corruption in the highest echelons of the Sierra Leone government;

Shi Tao, an internet writer and poet, sentenced earlier this year to a ten year prison term by a Chinese court that had used evidence provided by the internet service provider Yahoo!;

Roya Toloui, an Iranian writer, feminist and Kurdish rights activist who is awaiting trial for her advocacy of minority rights;

Victor Rolando Arroyo, who is held in harsh conditions in a Cuban jail serving a staggering 26-year sentence for his work for an independent journalists’ association;

Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s most well-known author who will be brought to trial in December for a comment made to a Swiss newspaper referring to the killings of Armenians and Kurds during the last century.

Please click here to download full case histories on Paul Kamara, Shi Tao, Roya Touloui, Victor Rolando Arroyo and Orhan Pamuk.

This year, PEN members around the world will work to mobilize public opinion to condemn the imprisonment and death of Ken Saro-Wiwa in November 1995, to honor his memory and that of the many hundreds of other writers who have suffered repression in the past decade.

As Saro-Wiwa himself wrote to International PEN in May 1995, six months before his death: “Whether I live or die is immaterial. It is enough to know that there are people who commit time, money and energy to fight this one evil among so many others predominating worldwide. If they do not succeed today, they will succeed tomorrow. We must keep on striving to make the world a better place for all of mankind. Each one contributing his bit, in his or her own way. I salute you all.”