Sunday 3 May 2020 – 8:00am
This World Press Freedom Day, PEN International publishes its 2019 Case List, documenting 212 cases of writers facing harassment, arrest, violence and even death.
For nearly a century, PEN International has monitored and advocated for writers who have suffered repression of their right to write freely, and to comment on the world around them without fear of repercussion.
The Case List is a yearly document of violations against writers: what happened, where, and by whom? It covers writers of fiction and non-fiction, poets, playwrights, song writers, and translators – anyone who works with the written word.
“Writers are gifted with the ability to express their imagination, and it is that idea – that they are in control of what they think – that governments, authorities, religious groups, vigilantes, and others resent.” – Salil Tripathi, Chair, Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International.
2019 was a year of public protests, with many seeing violent clashes between police and demonstrators, and where journalists attempting to report on events were assaulted and attacked.
In 2019, PEN International monitored 212 cases of repression against writers across the globe, a small rise in the previous year’s total of 205. There were slight increases in Africa and the Americas, and a rise of 12 per cent in Asia, partly relating to a crackdown against Muslim Uyghurs in China, and increased harassment of writers and poets commenting on events in India.
Lengthy terms of imprisonment and pre-trial detention account for the largest number of attacks, with a total of 67 recorded in 2019. Of these the largest cluster are in China, including the Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous regions, where twenty-one writers are in prison, nearly all held under National Security legislation. Among them are at least seven writers who were arrested in the recent crackdown against thousands of Uyghur Muslims in the last year.
The murders of writers often go unpunished. Murder not only extinguishes a critical voice, but also intimidates into silence those who were close to the victim, who shared their views or who dared to delve into the misdemeanors of the powerful. In 2019, PEN focused on the murder of Iraqi novelist, Alaa Mashtob Abboud, shot dead in February 2019, and the young journalist and writer, Lyra McKee, killed by a masked gunman as she covered riots in Northern Ireland.
PEN welcomed the release of 18 writers in 2019 having served prison sentences or periods on trial. In some cases, PEN Centres had campaigned for the release of these writers for several years.
A number of writers benefited from amnesties, including Rashad Ramazanov, who had been in prison in Azerbaijan since 2013; Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who had been imprisoned in Myanmar under the Official Secrets Act; and Abdel-Halim Qandil, who was freed in Egypt while serving a three-year sentence for ‘insult to the judiciary.’
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and journalist Stanislav Aseyev were both freed in prisoner swaps, the former having served five years in a Russian labour camp. Writer Ayse Duzkan had served six months under Turkey’s anti-terror law prior to her release. Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Mkhaitir was freed after more than five years in prison, having initially faced the death penalty.
Those freed represent around 15 per cent of cases of long-term detention and trial hearings that we monitor; there is still a lot of work to do.
“We, of the PEN community’s Writer in Prison Committee, draw inspiration from these brave women and men. And we will try to be like them and we will send our support and solidarity to them, so that they know they are not alone, because we know we are not alone.” – Salil Tripathi
Note to editors:
PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. PEN International is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088
Once a year the PEN International produces a case list (covering the previous year) of individuals around the world who are detained or otherwise persecuted for their peaceful political activities or for the practice of their profession.