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Day of Imprisoned Writers – ‘Change only the name and this story is also about you.\’

November 15, 2013

November 15 is the international day of the imprisoned writer. PEN international and PEN networks in many countries have organised events to focus on one of most pernicious forms of censorship – imprisoning writers and journalists. According to PEN, more than 900 writers are in jail for their work, all over the world.
In an interview with Germany’s Radio Deutsche Welle, published on November 15, Sascha Feuchert, vice president of PEN Centre Germany and a representative of the writer-in-prison committee was asked what Germany could do for writers imprisoned in other countries.

He replied, “[w]e can bring these cases to light and keep them in the public eye. We do this on our website, over our social media channels and, of course, in our press releases. When things are made public, it seems that dictators or other unjust regimes are less likely to make these people ‘disappear.’ Publicity is extremely important. In addition, we try to get in contact with the imprisoned colleagues through letters to let them know that they’re not forgotten or alone. Unfortunately, we’re not always successful.”
In a reader-friendly interactive graphic PEN International has called attention to cases of writers and journalists in prisons all over the world, with appeals to the public to write letters for their release. Please click here.
This blog has highlighted the cases of many journalists who have been detained, often under counterterrorism laws, for publicising corruption, malfeasance and abuse by those in power. Some like Rodney Sieh editor of Liberia’s FrontPage Africa and Ethiopia’s Melaku Desmisse, editor of The Reporter, were released. But the regimes that detained them continue in power, which cannot be a comfort for someone who is inspired to expose wrongdoing.
But others remain in jail. Ethiopia Eskinder Nega’s sentence of 18 years in prison was upheld by a higher court in the appeal. Le Quoc Quan and a number of other Vietnamese bloggers are shut in by their government that fear the expression of dissent.
It is a grim, thankless business for organisations like PEN that work for the release or at least more human treatment of writers. As Feuchert says, “[t]he situation has not improved for persecuted writers around the world. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. These are individuals for whom we are fighting.”
Nega wrote a letterfrom prison on May 2, on the eve of Press Freedom Day after his appeal was rejected. Speaking about writers in prison he asks, “Why should the rest of the world care? Horace said it best: mutate nomine detefabula narrator. ‘Change only the name and this story is also about you.’ Whenever justice suffers our common humanity suffers, too.
I will live to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It may or may not be a long wait. Whichever way events may go, I shall persevere!”


Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.