New York City, September 10, 2009—PEN welcomes the release of journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, who had originally been sentenced to death for blasphemy in Afghanistan, and Ilham Tohti, a member of the Uighur PEN Center who was detained in Beijing during the unrest in Xinjiang Province. Both were released amidst mounting international pressure.

Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, a journalism student at Balkh University and reporter for the local daily Jahan-e-Naw (The New World), was arrested on October 27, 2007 in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, northern Afghanistan, for distributing allegedly anti-Islamic literature. He was sentenced to death in January 2008 for “blasphemy,” but his sentence was reduced to a 20-year term last October. Kambakhsh’s health was reportedly deteriorating in Pul-i-Charkhi Prison, where conditions are said to be harsh. He was released several weeks ago in secret, and has found safety in a third country.

Ilham Tohti, an associate professor of the Economics School at the Central Nationalities University in Beijing and a Uighur PEN member, was detained on July 7, 2009, in retaliation for his writings on the unrest that jolted the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region’s capital city of Urumqi earlier that month. Tohti was released without charge on August 23, 2009. His detention was one in a string of arrests of writers throughout China, where authorities have targeted hundreds in the wake of sensitive anniversaries in the country.

“We are more than pleased to hear of the release of our colleagues Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh and Ilham Tohti, who were among PEN’s highest priority cases,” said Larry Siems, Director of the Freedom to Write and International Programs. “While we remain concerned about the climate for freedom of expression in Afghanistan and the extremely difficult conditions our PEN colleagues are facing throughout China, these releases remind us of the effectiveness of PEN’s work and the power of international pressure in general. We are grateful to all the writers and PEN members around the world who have been working for their release.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105