'Day of the Imprisoned Writer' remembers persecuted authors

16 Nov



The authors' association PEN is shining a light on writers and journalists who have been imprisoned in regions from Crimea to Tibet. It's also calling for their release.


Authors, journalists and publishers are being targeted by unjust regimes around the world, according to PEN International, a worldwide association of writers founded in London in 1921. 


On the "Day of the Imprisoned Writer," 140 PEN centers spread across the world are remembering the plight of persecuted and imprisoned writers and journalists, including Iryna Danylovych, a journalist from the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea; Go Sherab Gyatso, a prominent writer in Tibet, an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China; Soulaiman Raissouni, a Moroccan journalist; and Cuban writer Maria Cristina Garrido Rodriguez.

The four writers are "acutely threatened," warns PEN, which promotes press freedom. "As long as one of them is not free, no one is free," Najem Wali, the Writers-in-Prison Representative of the German PEN Center in Darmstadt, told DW. "Writers put up resistance, stand up for justice and free societies," Wali continued. "For this, many are persecuted, threatened, attacked, imprisoned, exiled and often killed."

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One example is the Indian-British writer Salman Rushdie. The author of "The Satanic Verses" barely survived an assassination attempt on an open stage in August 2022. Rushdie was recently awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in Frankfurt am Main.


Ukrainian Iryna Danylovych held captive by Russian authorities

Iryna Danylovych, a Ukrainian citizen journalist and human rights activist, uncovered abuses in the healthcare system in occupied Crimea. On April 29, 2022, she was forcibly abducted. On the same day, Russian security forces searched her house and confiscated her phone and equipment. It was not until two weeks later that her lawyer tracked her down in a remand prison in Simferopol.

She was charged with allegedly handling explosives, listed as a "foreign agent" and sentenced to seven years in prison. In protest against the poor medical care in prison, Danylovych went on a hunger strike in March. According to her family, she is in poor health.


Tibetan writer Go Sherab Gyatso imprisoned by Chinese government

The Tibetan writer, educator and intellectual Go Sherab Gyatso, known as Gosher, is faring no better. The writers' association is also concerned about his health due to a lack of medical care. Gosher is serving a 10-year prison sentence.According to PEN, he was sentenced after a secret trial at the end of 2021. Security forces had previously arrested him in Chengdu, the capital city of the Chinese province of Sichuan, on suspicion of "inciting secession." 

Gosher was transferred to the Tibet Autonomous Region and officially charged there. His writings are dedicated to Tibetan Buddhism and the language and culture of Tibet. He had criticized China's government for restricting Tibetan children's access to education in their mother tongue.


Arbitrary detention for Soulaiman Raissouni 

Moroccan journalist Soulaiman Raissouni, on the other hand, was arrested in May 2020 for alleged sexual assault, which he rejects as politically motivated. He spent almost a year in custody without trial and was then sentenced to five years in prison.

The trial was marked by irregularities and took place without him and his defense lawyers, reports PEN. Raissouni was also monitored using Pegasus spyware. After a long hunger strike, he is not in good health and his appeal has been rejected. The United Nations and the European Parliament expressed concern about the arbitrary nature of his detention and demanded Raissouni's release.


Cuban activist Maria Cristina Garrido Rodriguez also imprisoned

The charges against Cuban poet and activist Maria Cristina Garrido Rodriguez were also trumped up. She was sentenced to seven years in prison in March 2022 for "public disorder," "assault," "incitement to commit a crime," "contempt" and "resistance." 

She had previously taken part in peaceful protests. Rodriguez is serving her sentence in El Guatao Provincial Women's Prison, where she is being treated cruelly, according to PEN. "The mechanisms used to persecute unpopular authors are the same all over the world," says Najem Wali. "Dictators rule with the hope that people have seen nothing and heard nothing, and therefore remain silent."

The writer Wali experienced this first-hand when he was arrested in Iraq in the 1980s and ended up in the torture centers of ruler Saddam Hussein. Wali has been Writers-in-Prison Representative and Vice President of the German PEN Center since May 2022.


Freedom of expression under threat worldwide

Meanwhile, the International Writers-in-Prison Committee in London paints a bleak picture of the state of freedom of expression. In its 2022 annual report, PEN International lists at least 68 writers and journalists who have been killed or threatened, "especially in North and South America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East."

According to Wali, freedom of expression is currently under the greatest threat in Mexico, measured by the number of murdered journalists and authors. However, similar things are also happening in China, Russia, Turkey, Syria, Zimbabwe and El Salvador. It is difficult to draw up a ranking, says Wali. Nevertheless, there are "hot spots" such as Iran with its women-led protest movement.

Since 1980, the writers' association PEN has commemorated the fate of persecuted authors on November 15. The day of remembrance was established by the "Writers in Prison" committee of the international PEN as a reaction to the "growing number of countries that are trying to silence authors through repression."


Author Stefan Dege

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