15 November 2014 marks the 33rd anniversary of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer.
PEN International launched the first Day of the Imprisoned Writer in 1981, with the aim of focusing much-needed global attention on imprisoned, murdered or otherwise harassed writers. Since then, the Day of the Imprisoned Writer has become a key campaigning event in PEN’s calendar, with PEN centres from across the globe taking part in high-profile activities highlighting the plight of our fellow writers who have been targeted solely because of their work.
Every year, in the lead up to the 15 November, the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International carefully selects five cases – one from each of the regions on which PEN works – which are of particular concern, and which are often emblematic in some way of a broader, worrying trend within the region, such as impunity or the abuse of ill-defined anti-terrorism legislation.
Most of the writers included in PEN International’s recommendations for 2014’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer have given their support to the campaigning on their behalf, believing that it has the potential to lead to a positive outcome for them, whether that be long-awaited justice or a boost to their morale while they sit in a prison cell; in cases where writers are unable to give their direct consent, this has been given to us by their families or legal representatives.
PEN’s recommendations for 15 November 2014 are:
• Nelson AGUILERA (Paraguay), writer, teacher and member of PEN Paraguay, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison on 4 November 2014 for allegedly plagiarising a novel. His conviction is currently the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice. Independent experts and writers have found that the similarities between his work and the allegedly plagiarised work cannot be described as plagiarism.
• Azimjon ASKAROV (Kyrgyzstan), journalist and member of Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek minority who has spent his career exposing corruption. Following the inter-ethnic conflict that swept Osh and Jalal-Abad in June 2010, he was convicted of organising mass disorder and complicity in the murder of a police officer; he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and other independent observers have declared that Askarov did not receive a fair trial. He is in poor health.
• Dieudonné Enoh MEYOMESSE (Cameroon), poet, is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for alleged complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold. It has now been 15 months since Meyomesse’s lawyers succeeded in having his case referred to a civil court for appeal. His appeal was expected to be heard on 20 June 2013 but the hearing was postponed. At least 12 further hearings have been postponed due to various legal technicalities. PEN believes that the charges against Meyomesse are politically motivated. He is in poor health.
• Mahvash SABET (Iran), teacher and poet, is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence in Evin prison, Tehran. She is one of a group of seven Baha’i leaders known as the “Yaran-i-Iran” – “Friends of Iran” – who have been detained since 2008 for their faith and activities related to running the affairs of the Bahá’í community in Iran. Mahvash Sabet began writing poetry in prison.
• Gao YU (China), journalist and member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, she ‘disappeared’ on 23 April 2014 and was held incommunicado for two weeks before the authorities disclosed, in a televised ‘confession,’ that she was being held on suspicion of ‘leaking state secrets abroad’. She remains detained pending trial, and faces a lengthy prison sentence if convicted. Her precise whereabouts are unknown.
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