Voices Around the World


By Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, former International Secretary of PEN International

Each month notices of writers under threat come across my desk. I find myself studying the pictures of the writers when there are pictures, writing down their names, and when available, reading some of their work to make them real in my own mind and imagination and later to share their work, which governments hope to silence. Along with other members of PEN I write appeals on their behalf with no definitive measure of how effective these are, but over time the accumulation of protests from writers and others around the world does push open consciousness and prison doors.

In the past month, writers have been imprisoned with long sentences in China, Ethiopia and the Cameroons, had an expired sentence extended in Uzbekistan, been killed in Mexico, threatened with death in India, and released in Myanmar and Vietnam.

China remains the country with the most writers in long term imprisonment, including Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who’s serving an 11-year sentence. In the past month, Chen Wei and Chen Xi have been sentenced to nine and ten years for “inciting subversion of state power,” in part for essays and articles they wrote online criticizing the political system in China and praising the growth of civil society. Zhu Yufu was indicted this month on subversion for publishing a poem online last spring that urged people to gather to defend their freedoms.

In Ethiopia Elias Kifle, an editor of a US-based opposition website, was sentenced to life in prison in abstentia and two journalists who covered banned opposition groups were sentenced and are now serving 14-year terms.

In the Cameroons Enoh Meyonnesse, author and founding member of the Cameroon Writers Association, has been held in solitary confinement and complete darkness for thirty days and denied access to a lawyer and has been sentenced to the harshest conditions for at least another six months.

Muhammad Bekjanov, Uzbek journalist and editor of the now defunct opposition newspaper Erk, had completed his twelve-year prison term, but this month was given an additional five years.

In Mexico reporter Raul Regulo Garza Quirino was gunned down by a gang and became the first journalist in Mexico murdered in 2012. In the past five years over 37 journalists and writers have been killed in Mexico and at least eight disappeared. Most reported on corruption and organized crime.

In India this month Salman Rushdie pulled out of the Jaipur Literary Festival after he was warned by intelligence sources that members of Mumbai’s criminal underworld had put a price on his head.

The redeeming news of the month comes from Myanmar, which still has an estimated 1000 political prisoners, including at least five writers, but the government has released poets, writers and journalists Win Maw, Zaw Thet Htwe, U Zeya and Nay Phone Latt and in late 2011 released Zarganar and lifted restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi.

And in Vietnam blogger and university teacher Pham Minh Hoang was released, though numbers of writers remain in prison in Vietnam.

Each case has its own individual story, but all share the story of a writer writing what others feared and did not want read. Some cases are complicated by other circumstances, but many are surprisingly straight forward.

The case of Zhu Yufu began with the poem he wrote and posted at the time of the revolutions in the Middle East. The authorities took almost a year before they decided to prosecute him. Zhu’s lawyer said Zhu had nothing to do with the online calls for “the Jasmine revolution” in China; those calls began on overseas Chinese websites.

Below is Zhu Yufu’s poem “It’s Time”:

“It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
The Square belongs to everyone.
With your own two feet
It’s time to head to the Square and make your choice.

“It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
A song belongs to everyone.
From your own throat
It’s time to voice the song in your heart.

“It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
China belongs to everyone.
Of your own will
It’s time to choose what China shall be.

–by Zhu Yufu (translated by A.E. Clark)

This post is taken from the original published at http://www.joanneleedom-ackerman.com/blog/

Read more about the Writers in Prison Committee here