PEN International: Joint Letter for the Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2020

Posted on November 15, 2020, 12:17 pm
5 mins

On 15 November, the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, PEN International calls for urgent international action to protect writers and journalists across the globe, who increasingly find themselves targeted for their peaceful free expression work. Writers and poets, Margret Atwood, EWC President Nina George, Yann Martel and Ian Rankin, a.o., joint this letter by PEN International:

“As poets, novelists, journalists, editors and academics, we stand with fellow writers around the world who are being harassed, put on trial or imprisoned.

On 15 November 2020, PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer, we are highlighting the cases of all those who have been targeted this year because, through their work or through their actions, they have criticised corruption, supported movements for justice or simply expressed their artistic vision in ways which have upset powerful people.

2020 has been a year unlike any other. For writers at risk, COVID-19 has posed particular challenges. Responding to COVID-19 has provided justification for some governments to clamp down on freedom of expression.

It has increased the health risks faced by writers already held in prison. But it has also reminded us of the importance of the written word to connect us to one another when we are otherwise separated, and its ability to challenge the status quo and fire our imaginations to dream bigger and better.

Today, we ask others to join us to call on governments to protect all writers and ensure that they, and we, can carry out our work in safety.”

Jennifer Clement
Ayad Akhtar
Lisa Appignanesi
Margaret Atwood
Catherine Banner
Lauren Beukes
JM Coetzee
Tsitsi Dangarembga
Nadia Davids
David Francis
Damon Galgut
Nina George
Mark Gevisser
James Hannaham
Iman Humaydan
Danson Kahyana
Katlin Kaldmaa
Mandla Langa
Ola Larsmo
Eric Lax
Yann Martel
Dinaw Mengestu
Sisonke Msimang
Paul Muldoon
Njabulo Ndebele
Margie Orford
Omotoso Yewande
Gregory Pardlo
Allison Markin Powell
Ian Rankin
Albie Sachs (Justice)
Philippe Sands
John Ralston Saul
Fatima Shaik
Kamila Shamsie
Andrew Solomon
Burhan Sönmez
Ma Thida
Luisa Valenzuela
Regula Venske
Zukiswa Wanner
June Tara Winch

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What is the Day of the Imprisoned Writer?

Each year, PEN highlights the cases of five persecuted writers, be they imprisoned, facing prosecution or otherwise at risk. These cases highlight the type of threats and attacks that are faced by writers and journalists around the world every day.

PEN Centres and members worldwide take action to advocate for these cases around this day. Writers send solidarity letters to their colleagues in prison or under threat. This year’s letters come from Yann Martel, Elena Poniatowska, Ma Thida, Lisa Appignanesi and Andrey Kurkov.

What difference does the Day of the Imprisoned Writer make?

Last year, at least 29 PEN centres, representing every continent, used the Day of the Imprisoned Writer to highlight the cases of writers at risk and call for protection. Activities ranged from letter-writing to panel discussions, press conferences to publishing the work of imprisoned writers.

Three of the five writers featured in 2018’s campaign were released. 2019 focus case, Ugandan poet, activist and academic, Dr Stella Nyanzi went on to win the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International award before her eventual release.

For all featured writers, the campaign raises awareness of their situation, boosts advocacy work on their behalf and ensures that they and their families feel supported and not forgotten.

“It is difficult to silence a writer’s voice. From the gaps between the bars in cages, from the space left blank intentionally in letters, from words exchanged with visitors, in the books available outside the prisons, in the memories of readers, and the solidarity of supporters, the imprisoned writer’s words leak out, spread far and wide, and resonate in bookshops and cafes, on the Internet and in public squares. As we mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, we express our solidarity with our sisters and brothers denied their freedom, and call for their release and remember their courage and their words, repeating them, sharing them, and relaying them, making them resound, shattering the silence their jailors seek”. Salil Tripathi, Chair, PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, Writer and Journalist.

For further information, please contact Sabrina Tucci, Communications and Campaigns Manager,

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