PEN Centre Activities
American PEN joined forces with The Public Theatre to hold a special event entitled ‘Thought is Free: An Evening of Protest and Solidarity’. Carl Bernstein, Shirin Neshat and Lou Reed will read a story by Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega, a statement from the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and a text from the trial of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. The event will take place on 3 December, coinciding with the world premiere of Nathan Englander’s play The Twenty-Seventh Man, about Yiddish writers imprisoned by Stalin. The evening will be brought to a close with a conversation between Salman Rushdie and Englander about The Twenty-Seventh Man, Rushdie’s new memoir, Joseph Anton, and the responsibilities of the artist.
To view American PEN Centre’s website click here.
Armenian PEN marked the day with a number of events. Members of the Centre who teach in Yerevan’s universities dedicated their lessons to the Day of the Imprisoned Writer by explaining the importance of PEN International, their existing committees and, above all, the Writers in Prison Committee. The President of PEN Armenia, Anna Hakobian, wrote an article that was published in the independant daily newspaper Hraparak. Read the article here.
Canadian PEN observed the Day of the Imprisoned writer by sending volunteers out onto the streets of Toronto with large images of Russian punk band Pussy Riot and Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, inviting the public to be photographed with them. These images will be posted online as a gesture of support. The public were also asked to petition relevant authorities, calling for the immediate and unconditional release.
To view Canadian PEN Centre’s website click here.
Catalan PEN commemorated the Day of the Imprisoned Writer with events in both Barcelona and Mallorca. The events in Mallorca began with a Press Conference on 23 October 2012 in the Ramon Institute, where the recent activities of Catalan PEN in the Balearic Islands were announced along with the award of the Third International Free Voice Prize -PEN Català, to be given to a writer who has undergone, or is presently undergoing, persecution because of his or her words. This was followed by a dinner in honour of the award of the Third International Free Voice Prize-PEN Català on 24 October 2012. The writer Koulsy Lamko from Chad read a selection of his poems, and music was provided by the violinist Francesc Amengual Ripoll. On 15 November 2012 a recital of texts written from prison was held at the Llorenç Villalonga Museum, entitled Break down the bars. Participating were Heike Nottebaum, Cèlia Riba, Glòria Julià, Miquel Angel Vidal and Maria Victòria Secall. Lucia Pietrelli presented.
In Barcelona, 30 October 2012 saw the official presentation of Basem Al-Nabriss (Gaza), guest writer of Catalan PEN, within the Guest Writer Programme. There were interventions by Carme Arenas, President of PEN Català, Joaquim Llimona, Director of International Relations and Cooperation of the City Council of Barcelona, Carles Llorens, Director of the Catalan Agency for Cooperation and Development, Oriol Izquierdo, Director of the Catalan Letters Institution, Raffaella Salierno, General Secretary of PEN Català and Director of the GuestWriter Programme, and Basem Al-Nabriss, guest writer. Later that same day Catalan PEN held a debate entitled Writing in Exile. The participants in this debate were Koulsy Lamko and Basem Al-Nabriss, whilst Salem Zenia moderated and Carme Arenas acted as presenter. Both of these events took place in Arts Santa Mònica. On 31 October 2012 a poetic reading by Koulsy Lamko, ‘Pois sucré, polvo de vida’ (Sweet peas, dust of life), took place at L’Horiginal, presented by David Figueres and with an introduction by Pau Vadell.
To view Catalan PEN Centre’s website click here.
Croatian PEN decided on a slightly different event for this year’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer: they celebrated the 80th birthday of Predrag Matvejevic, former President and honorary life-long Vice-President of PEN International, who fought hard for imprisoned writers in former Yugoslavia. To mark this occasion there was a celebratory gathering of former dissidents and current activists.
To view Croatian PEN Centre’s website click here.
Cuban Writers in Exile PEN Centre commemorated the Day of the Imprisoned Writer at their book launch of Arnoldo Tauler’s El General Sombra on Saturday 10 November. Luis Ignacio Larcarda, Secretary of Cuban Writers in Exile PEN Centre, took a special moment to remind members of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. He read the biographies of this year’s focus writers, before remembering all of the writers who have suffered, and continue to suffer in Cuban jails.
Czech PEN commemorated the Day of the Imprisoned Writer by holding a reading and discussion with Jiří Stránský. The former head of Czech PEN, Stránský is an author, playwright, screenwriter, translator, journalist and human rights activist who was imprisoned under the communist regime. The interview was conducted by journalist and author, Libuse Koubska.
To view Czech PEN Centre’s website click here.
Esperanto PEN marked the Day of the Imprisoned Writer with a special event in Milan entitled ‘The Forbidden Language: the Case of the Finno-Ugric People in Europe’. Finno-Ugric is the most important linguistic minority group in Europe, counting among it the official languages of four countries (Slovenia, Hungary, Finland and Estonia), with one of them – Hungarian – spoken by more than ten million people. The Finno-Ugric people offer at least one world literature, as well as important contributions to science and technology, and have been central to the development of Esperanto literature. Despite their significant presence in Europe, Hungarian speakers are confronted with discrimination in nearby countries whilst Finno-Ugric speakers on the whole encounter a heavy state of cultural repression in the Russian Federation. Guests at this event included: Gyorgy Nanovfszky, Vice-President of the Finno-Ugric Peoples Association; Giorgio Silfer, co-author of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights; and Chiara Macconi, Chair for the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN Esperanto.
To view Esperanto PEN Centre’s website click here.
Estonian PEN hosted a literary evening at their Writer’s House on 14 November 2012. On this occasion they presented the first book in a new series called The Library of PEN: ‘When you die as a cat’ by Goran Simic, translated by Kätlin Kaldmaa.
Finnish PEN released a campaign video, along with a letter, to all of their members to mark this year’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer. They will also be organizing a separate event in December, with more details to follow. To watch the campaign video, please click on this link.
To view Finnish PEN Centre’s website click here.
German PEN marked the Day of the Imprisoned Writer by presenting Irina Khalip with the Hermann Kesten Award in recognition of her consistent commitment to freedom of speech. A journalist with an unwavering commitment to the truth, Khalip was reporting on electoral fraud and rebellious demonstrations in Belarus up until her arrest. The prize had to be awarded via a Skype link as Khalip remains under house arrest and is forbidden from leaving Belarus. Speaking at the event was Thomas Urban, correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
To view German PEN Centre’s website click here.
Ghanaian PEN joined forces with the Ghana Association of Writers, the Ghana Journalists Association and Media Foundation for West Africa to host an event with the theme of ‘The Ghanaian Writer and Election 2012’, as the Presidential and Parliamentary election is to be held on 7th December 2012. The Chairman was distinguished private legal practitioner Mr Akoto Ampaw, and the speakers will include the Chairman of the National Media Commission, the President of the Ghana Bar Association, the Executive Director of Media Foundation for West Africa, the Chairman of the Ghana Association of Writers and the President of the Ghana Journalists Association. The President and Executive Director of PEN Ghana also spoke. As usual, members of PEN Youth Clubs from two selected senior high schools from two regions outside the capital were invited to participate. These schools were Bueman Senior High School and Presbyterian Senior High School, Adeiso. PEN Ghana sought to use this event as a platform for a fair, peaceful and transparent election.
Icelandic PEN in collaboration with Reykjavik City’s Human Rights Office hosted a free screening of the film “Silence or Exile” which takes a close look at the lives of five writers living in exile.
To view Icelandic PEN Centre’s website click here
Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) honoured two imprisoned writers, Dolma Kyab and Wu Yilong, with their Lui Xiaobo Courage to Write Award (formerly ‘Writers in Prison Award’). The award was given to mark their long-term tenacity and courage in writing regardless of imprisonments. Kyab is a Tibetan writer and teacher who was exiled to Dharamsala, India in 2003, where he wrote the Chinese draft of The Restless Himalayas. He returned to Tibet in 2004 and taught in a secondary school whilst collecting information for a book on the history and geography of Tibet. On 9 March 2005 he was arrested and sentenced to ten and a half years imprisonment after a secret trial. It has been reported that he was transferred to a Reform-Through-Labour camp in Xining, Quinghai Province in 2007 where he is suffering from a serious illness.
Wu Yilong is a freelance writer and a prominent human rights activist based in Zhejiang Province. He established Hangzhou Sanlian Book Club in May 1998 to discuss social problems, and edited it’s journal Readers. In June 1998 he helped to set up the Zhejiang Province Preparatory Committee of the China Democratic Party and was involved in drafting the Charters of China Democratic Party. In April 1999 he was arrested and put under ‘residential surveillance’ until his second arrest in September 1999. During detention, Wu secretly sent out a letter in which he detailed the purpose of founding CDP and its four principles of being “open, rational, non-violent and lawful.” He was sentenced to eleven years imprisonment and three years deprivation of political rights for ‘subverting the state power’. In prison, he completed 11 manuscripts, including Theory of Political Rights, Interpretation of the Analects, and Problems and Its Countermeasures in China. Since his release in September 2010 he has continued to take part in human rights activities and is currently prevented from leaving Anhui Province.
ICPC have further named eight new honorary members: Chen Xi, GaoZhisheng, Tashi Rabten, Kunchok Tsephel Gopey Tsang, Kunga Tseyang, Gangkye Drubpa Kyab, RAO Wenwei and LI Bifeng.
To view Independent Chinese PEN Centre’s website click here.
Irish PEN marked the Day of the Imprisoned writer with an evening of short readings of works by writers, journalists and bloggers who are persecuted by regimes around the world. The event, entitled ‘The Imprisoned Writer: readings with Brian Keenan and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’ was held in partnership with Front Line Defenders an organisation dedicated to defending human rights and freedom of expression around the world.
To view Irish PEN Centre’s website click here.
Malawian PEN commemorated the Day of the Imprisoned Writer by holding a discussion with writers who have each experienced victimisation because of their writing. These writers included Vera Chirwa, Sam Mpasu, Willie Zinganie and Jack Mapanje (in absentia, as he is currently in Botswana).
Norwegian PEN marked the Day of the Imprisoned Writer by awarding their annual Ossietzky Prize to Norwegian-Pakistani singer, music producer, composer, film maker and human rights activist Deeyah. The Ossietzky prize is Norwegian PEN´s prize for outstanding achievements within the field of freedom of expression and is awarded every year on 15 November. As a young, critically acclaimed recording artist, Deeyah and her family experienced heavy criticism and violent threats from the Norwegian-Pakistani community who felt that it was not appropriate for a young Muslim woman to perform music. In 2006 she stopped performing to focus on film making and producing music. Her projects include the CD Listen To The Banned; Sisterhood, an international initiative encouraging young Muslim women to express themselves artistically, and the film Banaz A Love Story which addresses the phenomenon of honor killings within immigrant communities in Europe. She also set up the charity AVA dedicated to supporting freedom of expression among women and young people, particularly within ethnic minorities.
To view Norwegian PEN Centre’s website click here.
Philippine PEN held a Writer’s Forum in commemoration of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. They enjoined all writers, writers’ groups, circles and publications to share their advocacy for freedom by composing a piece for the freedom of Ericson Acosta, the imprisoned poet, journalist and songwriter. These contributions were put together on 15 November 2012 at the University of the Philippines in Manila, in order to demonstrate the strength of the worldwide solidarity for the freedom of the imprisoned writer.
To view Philippine PEN Centre’s website click here.
Scottish PEN worked with Amnesty International as part of the Amnesty Human Rights Fair in St Augustine’s Church, Edinburgh, running a stall and leading two workshops. Scottish PEN member and journalist Louisa Waugh, recently returned from Gaza, gave a talk on the British media coverage of the ongoing conflict there. An extract from ‘A Woman in the Crossfire’ by Sayed Yazbek was read by Ann C. Clarke, and Iyad al-Hiatleh read in Arabic from a series of his poems on the Syrian Revolution with Scottish PEN’s President, Drew Campbell, reading the translations and facilitating the discussion.
To view Scottish PEN Centre’s website click here.
South African PEN hosted a free event at Kalk Bay Books in Cape Town where John Maytham introduced six local writers who stood in for their imprisoned peers around the world: Tal al-Mallouhi (Syria), Ericson Acosta (Philippines), Muharrem Erbey (Turkey), Dolma Kyab (Tibet), Eskinder Nega (Ethiopia), Liu Xiaobo (China) and Mamadali Makhmudov (Uzbekistan). Participating writers read a piece from the works of their imprisoned counterpart as well as a piece of their own writing. Among these writers were Tom Eaton, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Lauren Beukes, Tim Butcher, Michael Morris and Gus Ferguson. Jacques Coetzee and Johann Kotze performed their beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire and the evening was brought to a wonderful conclusion with Emma Rycroft singing Bob Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom.
To view South African PEN Centre’s website, click here.
Swedish PEN marked the day of the Imprisoned Writer by awarding their Tucholsky Prize to the Syrian author and journalist Samar Yazbek for her reports on the Syrian uprising. Through her blog, Yazbek has documented the day by day occurrences of the conflict. Combing the best of factual journalism and documentary prose, she has given us a unique insight into the effects of the civil war on everyday life in Syria. Without such writers who bravely put the truth above their personal safety, we would not have any first-hand knowledge of the developments in the ongoing conflict. Due to her candid depictions of the atrocities committed by Assad’s regime in her second novel Salsal, Yazbek was arrested by security forces. She was accused of acting against national security and spreading malicious propaganda against the regime. In 2011 she was forced to leave Syria for Paris.
Set up in 1985, the Tucholsky Prize has been awarded annually by Swedish PEN to a writer who has made special efforts in the name of free speech. Past recipients include Salman Rushdie, Bei Dao and Nuruddin Farrah.
To view Swedish PEN Centre’s website click here.
SwissRomand PEN , in collaboration with SwissGerman PEN, Swiss Italian PEN and Rheto-Romanche PEN invited Turkish editor and campaigner for human rights Ragip Zarakolu to perform a reading and have a discussion with the Swiss Author Iso Camartin. The discussion focused on human rights violations, and freedom of expression in Turkey in particular. Zarakolu is one of forty journalists currently being pursued in trial by the Turkish authorities.
To view SwissRomand PEN Centre’s website click here.
Quebecois PEN will be holding their 13th consecutive ‘Livres comme l’Air’ (Free as the Air) event to commemorate the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, in collaboration with Amnesty International and the Union des écrivaines et écrivaines québécois (UNEQ). It will take place on 16 November 2012 in the Salon du Livre de Montréal, Place Bonaventure, Montreal at 8.30pm. Nine writers who are members of the UNEQ and one writer who is a member of the Quebec Writers’ Federation will read a dedication of one of their books to a persecuted writer. Since the year 2000, 120 Quebecois writers and 120 other writers from around the world have been able to establish their solidarity and friendship in this way, by reminding the public how essential it is to remain vigilant on the topic of freedom of expression. The writers who will be speaking and those they will dedicate a work to will be as follows: Katia Canciani to Ericson Acosta (Philippines), Normand de Bellefeuille to Ales Byalyatski (The Republic of Belarus), Denise Desautels to Goana Angye (Columbia), Jean Désy to Chen Wei (China), Peter Dubé to Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja (Bahrain), Pauline Gill to Nasrin Soutadeh (Iran), Georges Leroux to Nguyễn Hoàng Hải (Vietnam), Sylvain Meunier to Gankye Drubpa Kyab (Tibet), Jocelyne Saucier to Narges Mohammadi (Iran) and Johanne Seymour to Hussein Essou (Syria).
To view Quebecois PEN Centre’s website click here.
PEN Uyghur Centre commemorated the Day of Imprisoned Writers by publishing a press release dedicated to Uyghur journalists in prison. They estimate that 400 Uyghur intellectuals, including writers, journalists, web masters and bloggers remain in Chinese jails, arrested in the aftermath of the ‘5th July’ 2009 ethnic conflict in Urumchi, the regional capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. On this Day, the Uyghur PEN centre will focus on two Uyghur journalists who were imprisoned after 5th July 2009: Gheyret Niyaz and Gulmire Imin.
To view Uyghur PEN Centre’s website click here.
PEN Vlaanderen are combining the Day of the Imprisoned Writer with the International Day of Tolerance to hold an exhibition on human rights called ‘NewTopia’ in Mechelen. On the evening of 16 November 2012 a number of celebrated writers, both Belgium and foreign nationals will take a closer look at the Declaration of Human Rights. They will be focusing on what could be done differently, what is missing from it and how it could be improved. The idea of Reports from Newtopia is not to stage acrimonious debates, but to present major writers with a vision and literary work that provides food for thought. In attendance will be Tahar Ben Jalloun, David Van Reybrouck, Naema Tahir, Chris De Stoop, In Koli Jean Bofane, Dejan Anastasijevic, and Fatena Al-Ghorra. Music will be provided by Afonike.
To view Vlaanderen PEN Centre’s website click here.
(We will be updating this page with additional centre activity regurlarly.)