Monday, November 15, 2010

PEN International Commemorates 50 Years of its Writers in Prison Committee on the Day of the Imprisoned Writer

LONDON, 15 November 2010-The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International commemorates its fiftieth 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," says Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee. "On 15 November 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 Centre, 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 centres are casting a spotlight on current and previous WiPC work, with special projects, books, awards and events. For example, German PEN will host an event in Berlin on 15 November, 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 centres have held exhibitions of different "empty chairs", evoking the absence of those many writers missing 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."

For the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, on 15 November 2010, the WiPC is highlighting five specific cases of writers sentenced, murdered or otherwise in danger. These are:

  • Hossein Derakhshan, 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 27 December 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 15 November 2009, 41 writers have been killed, in countries such as Mexico (10), Pakistan (four) and Nigeria (three). For the complete list, click here

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:

To read the Media & Publicity Toolkit for Writers in Prison Commiteees and and PEN members, click here

PEN International celebrates literature and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, its global community of writers now spans more than 100 countries. PEN programmes, campaigns, events and publications connect writers and readers wherever they are in the world.

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