South Africa: Criminal charges and death threats against author Jacques Pauw

 Reports that criminal charges have been laid against journalist Jacques Pauw following the publication of his book, The President’s Keepers, are deeply concerning, said PEN South Africa, PEN Afrikaans and PEN International. The President’s Keepers, released on 29 October, exposes allegations of wide-scale corruption, fraud and financial mismanagement under the rule of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma.

To read more, visit PEN International

China: writer and PEN member dies while on medical parole


8 November 2017 - PEN international mourns the death of dissident writer and PEN member Yang Tongyan, who succumbed to a brain tumour on 7 November 2017, just three months after he was released on medical parole in August 2017.

“We mourn Yang Tongyan. We find ourselves in despair faced with another life destroyed by injustice in China. A dear writer, a committed citizen, a man of vision and hope has been crushed by a system where repression is the rule. For the second time this year, after the death of Liu Xiaobo, we see a prisoner liberated on parole just for him to face death out of prison. Such a cruel practice reveals to what extend injustice commands the whole judicial system. The Chinese Communist Party must know that we will never forget these dear PEN colleagues and will never stop our peaceful struggle to restore freedom of expression in China one day.” Said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International

At the time of his death, Yang was receiving treatment in a Shanghai hospital. He had undergone an operation to remove a tumour on 23 August 2017. His family had only learnt of his diagnosis on 12 August.

Read more on PEN International's website

PEN International's Writers for Peace Committee Statement on the Catalan Referendum

We, the Writers for Peace Committee of PEN International, express our grave concern over the events that marred the show of democratic will by the people in the recent Catalan referendum. The scenes of armed, masked police officers assaulting peaceful citizens of all ages should be a matter of shame for the Spanish Government, as is the lack of a meaningful response from the Council of the European Union.

The action would be outrageous in any society; however, this is especially so in a country that has prided itself on emerging as a democracy from dark days of civil war and dictatorship. As Writers for Peace, we are deeply concerned that the political and actual wounds of those decades should not be re-opened.

We deplore the violence used by the forces of the Spanish state against the people of Catalonia on 1 October 2017.

We believe that a dispute between governments can never be a just reason for unleashing violence on peaceful citizens seeking to give their opinion through voting. Neither can an order from a court be the reason to use excessive force to prevent the free and legitimate expression of dissent. We believe that in this case, the force used was excessive.

We demand that the right to freedom of expression, whether it is exercised through voting, speaking or writing, be respected by all branches of state authority. We call on all EU Institutions and in particular on the European Parliament to remind Spain of the limits that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights put on its actions.

Swedish PEN dedicates new issue of the Dissident Blog to Turkey

On Monday, the case against Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, president of the Cumhuriyet Executive Board and lawyer Akın Atalay, columnist and publications advisor Kadri Gürsel, reporter Ahmet Şık, accountant Emre İper and Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu - a teacher unrelated to Cumhuriyet who is on trial on the basis of tweets he made - continued at the Çağlayan Courtroom in central Istanbul. 

The dismantling of freedom of expression in Turkey is shocking, not only the extent of it, but also the speed of events. On Monday, Swedish PEN released the 23rd edition of the Dissident Blog, which is all about the situation in Turkey.

The Dissident Blog dedicated to Turkey, which can be found here:

PEN welcomes the release of Gürsel and Karataş despite ‘dark week’ for the freedom of expression in Turkey

The past week has been another dark one for the right to free speech in Turkey, which continues to imprison hundreds of journalists and writers. While we welcome the release from pre-trial detention of Kadri Gürsel and Yusuf Karataş, we reiterate our call on the Turkish authorities to end its crackdown on the freedom of expression, to restore the freedom of the press and to immediately and unconditionally release all those held for peacefully expressing their views’, said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

Read more on PEN International's website.

Iran: PEN welcomes release of poet Mahvash Sabet after more than a decade in prison


PEN International welcomes the release of teacher and poet Mahvash Sabet, one of a group of seven Baha’i leaders known as the ‘Yaran-i-Iran’ – ‘Friends of Iran’ – detained in 2008 for their faith and activities related to running the affairs of the Bahá’í community in Iran. On 18 September 2017, Sabet was the first of the group to be released from prison, having served almost a decade in detention. Following her release, she has issued a public call for the release of her six fellow detainees.

More about the release on PEN International's website.

Syria: Take Action for Khalil Ma’touq, writer and human rights lawyer

On 2nd October, 2012 human rights lawyer and writer Khalil Ma’touq was arrested with his assistant Mohamed Thatha in Syria. Nearly five years later they remain missing. For more information, a video about about enforced disappearances in Syria and how to take action, read PEN International's full report.

Libya: Fears for safety of writers and editors over new literary collection


PEN International is deeply concerned about the safety of the writers and editors of a new literary collection entitled Sun on Closed Windows. The book, which includes short stories by 25 writers as well as two essays by prominent Libyan literary critics, was published in Arabic in May 2017. Read the full statement on PEN International's website.

Murder of journalist is a devastating blow to freedom of expression

The murder of journalist, Gauri Lankesh, earlier this month, is a devastating blow to freedom of expression, PEN International said today, as it called for a full and impartial investigation into her killing. More information on PEN International's website.

United Kingdom: Support Behrouz Boochani’s request for a visa to attend the London Film Festival

Behrouz Boochani is an Honorary member of PEN Melbourne and is on International PEN’s case list. He is a Kurdish-Iranian asylum seeker who cannot return to Iran. Boochani is a journalist who has been detained on Manus Island for four years. In that time, he has continued to work reporting on the dire situation for all the asylum seekers on Manus Island. 

He recently made an extraordinary documentary called Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time, about the situation for asylum seekers on Manus Island, which he shot on his phone and then sent to his co-producers in the Netherlands. The film has been received much praise since it debuted at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. It has now been selected to screen at the prestigious London Film Festival in October. 

Boochani has written to Menna Rawlings, the High Commissioner of the United Kingdom to Australia, requesting a visa so he can attend the film’s European premiere at the London Film Festival in October.

In Behrouz’s words, “it is a great honour for any director…My movie was also selected to be shown in the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year, where it had its world premiere, but the Australian government did not allow me to attend...I am asking you to give me a visa to attend the London Film Festival. I have been here in this prison camp for more than four years, even though I have committed no crime, and I am kept here by the Australian government who exiled me by force.

Spain: Release Turkish-Swedish journalist Hamza Yalçın

The arrest by Spanish authorities of Turkish-Swedish journalist Hamza Yalçın pursuant to an Interpol Notice issued by Turkey is deeply concerning, said PEN International today, as it called on the Spanish authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Yalçın and to allow him to return to Sweden.

The charges against Yalçın relate to an article he wrote for Odak magazine. IFEX reports that on 18 March, Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation into Yalçın, Odak’s chief columnist and the coordinator for its Training and Solidarity Movement, and Doğan Baran, the magazine’s managing editor, for the article ‘The Latest Developments in the Military and the Revolutionary Struggle’. Both men face charges of ‘insulting the President’ and ‘denigrating the military’.

Read the full media release on PEN International's website.

Egypt: PEN condemns the arbitrary dismissal of three journalists from newspaper

PEN International stands in solidarity with the Egyptian writers and journalists who were dismissed from their work at a leading newspaper on 26 July 2017 due to the expression of an opinion that contradicted the official position of the Egyptian authorities.

Read the full story here.

Turkey: Release journalist and painter Zehra Doğan


PEN International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Zehra Doğan. Pending her release, the Turkish authorities should allow her access to painting materials, in line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules, in particular Rule No. 105).

‘PEN International is dismayed by Zehra Doğan’s conviction and imprisonment, which we consider a violation of her right to freedom of expression, as an artist and as a journalist’, said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

Read the latest statement on PEN International's website

China: authorities must provide writer with adequate medical treatment

The Chinese authorities must provide writer and PEN member, Yang Tongyan, with adequate medical treatment and restore his access to medical insurance following his diagnosis of a brain tumour, PEN International said today.

Yang’s family members learnt of his diagnosis on 12 August 2017 and immediately sought his release on medical parole. According to friends, Yang was released from prison on 16 August and was expected to be transferred to a hospital in Nanjing. However, his family have been informed that he will not be allowed to travel abroad for treatment as he is still a prisoner.

Read the full statement on PEN International's website.

India: Delhi court places injunction on the sale and publication of a book


A Delhi court’s injunction on the publisher Juggernaut Books and the author Priyanka Pathak-Narain, which prevents the publication and sale of the book Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev is deeply concerning, PEN International said today.

On 4 August 2017, the Karkardooma District Court in Delhi approved an order prohibiting the publication and sale of Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev, without hearing the defence of either the book’s publisher or author.  The court decided not to hear from the defendants in order to avoid ‘the delay which would be caused during the process of serving the notice and hearing the defendants,’ according to Juggernaut. The book, which is the result of rigorous research including over 50 interviews, traces the trajectory of prominent public figure, Ramdev, from proponent of yoga to proprietor of a vast business empire.

Read the full story on PEN International's website

Bahrain: FCO Silence on Nabeel Rajab 'Appalling'

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office's silence on the sentencing of human rights figure Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain has been called "appalling" in a letter to the Foreign Secretary, signed by 17 rights groups & parliamentarians today. 

The President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights faces trial on 7th August for tweeting about the Yemen war and torture in Bahrain. He faces up to 15 years. He was sentenced in absentia following an unfair trial to two years in prison for giving media interviews on 10 July. Rajab has not been allowed to speak to his family since 15 July. Rajab has been held largely in solitary confinement in the first nine months of his detention. This led to his health deteriorating in April, and he is currently recovering in the Ministry of Interior clinic.

Read PEN International's full press release.

Syria: Rights groups condemn extrajudicial execution of human rights defender and software engineer Bassel Khartabil


The family of Bassel Khartabil, a Syrian-Palestinian software engineer and free speech activist, confirmed that he had been subjected to an extrajudicial execution in October 2015. The undersigned human rights organisations condemn the extrajudicial execution of Khartabil and call for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.


Read the full statement on PEN International's website.

India: harassment of writer must cease

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar must be free to practice his craft of writing without fear of intimidation and harassment, PEN International said today. Shekhar’s critically acclaimed literary and journalistic writing focuses on the Santhal community, which lives primarily in eastern India and parts of Bangladesh. His books include The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey (Aleph 2014) and The Adivasi Will Not Dance (Speaking Tiger 2015). 

Since 2015, some aggrieved readers have been running a campaign of harassment against him in social media, calling him a ‘pornographic’ writer. Some have threatened violence. On 4 August, they have threatened to burn his effigy and copies of his two books in Pakur, Jharkhand, where Shekhar works as a government physician. 

Read the full statement on PEN International's website.

PEN International: measures against Al-Jazeera violate media freedom

PEN International is deeply concerned about the measures taken by some Middle Eastern states against Al-Jazeera, a state-funded broadcaster in Doha, and other online magazines in the context of a diplomatic and economic offensive against Qatar. These measures have led to the closure of Al-Jazeera’s offices in some Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates(UAE). Recently the Israeli government also announced they would close the Al-Jazeera bureau in Jerusalem and revoke media credentials from Al-Jazeera journalists.

Several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt, have previously demanded that Qatar close Al-Jazeera and online news sites such as The New Arab, as a condition to end to this regional crisis. On 6 August 2017, the Israeli communications minister, Ayoub Kara, also announced his government’s decision to close Al-Jazeera Media Network’s bureau in Jerusalem, without setting a fixed date for when this was like to happen. 

Read the full statement on PEN International's website.

Mexico: PEN condemns recent threats against journalists

PEN International, PEN Mexico and PEN San Miguel de Allende are gravely concerned by the pervasive attacks and threats continuously being made against Mexican journalists. The levels of impunity for crimes against journalists are taking a toll on freedom of expression in the country. In the face of such violence and the failure of the local and federal authorities to ensure their protection, journalists, activists and human rights defenders have had to fight to protect themselves.

For more information read the full article on PEN International's website

China: Concerns for well-being of poet and artist Liu Xia

PEN International is deeply concerned for the health and well-being of poet, artist and founding member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, Liu Xia, following reports that attempts to contact her in the wake of the death of her husband, writer and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, have been prevented by the Chinese authorities, despite their assertions that she is ‘free’.  Liu Xia has been subjected to unofficial house arrest without charge ever since Liu Xiaobo was named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010. PEN International calls on the Chinese authorities to lift all remaining restrictions placed upon Liu Xia immediately and unconditionally.

To take action and send appeals, please find details on PEN International's website.

Hungary: End hateful rhetoric and attacks against rights groups

The Hungarian authorities must stop encouraging hateful views, PEN International said today, as the authorities continue to crackdown on independent civil society groups and critical voices.

The latest in a string of incidents saw Hungarian-born philanthropist and writer George Soros become the target of a government-run anti-immigration campaign. Posters appearing in public spaces across the country last month – on billboards, the metro and even the floors of Budapest’s trams – depicted the Jewish emigre laughing, alongside the text ‘let’s not let Soros have the last laugh’, in reference to claims that he wants to force Hungary to allow in migrants. The past few months have seen an escalation of the country’s anti-migrant stance, with the authorities openly fuelling anti-migrant rhetoric and smearing rights groups critical of their stance.

For the full story read the piece on PEN International's website

Liu Xiaobo: An exceptional life, always remembered

PEN International was gravely concerned for the health of dissident writer, Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) member and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, following news of his diagnosis of late-stage liver cancer. He was released on medical parole in June 2017 and was receiving medical treatment at Shenyang Hospital, Liaoning province. Liu Xiaobo had been serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” related to his part as the leading author behind “Charter ‘08”, a manifesto calling for protection of universal human rights and democratic reform in China. PEN International believes that Liu Xiaobo had been held for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of opinion, expression and association. PEN called on the Chinese authorities to grant Liu Xiaobo adequate medical care allowing his direct involvement in the decision-making process, and to allow him to seek medical assistance wherever he should choose.

More about Xiaobo on PEN International's website.

Attention is now drawn to the freedom of his widow, Liu Xia.

If you'd like to pay tribute to Liu Xiaobo, you can write a message in his memory,

From Xiaobo's writings:


Between the gray wall
And a string of sounds of chopping in kitchen
Dawn is tied and cut
And melted by a sort of limpness of soul

I do not know how the difference
Between light and darkness displays through my pupils
Sitting in the rust I cannot determine
Whether it is the light of prison shackles
Or the god of nature beyond the walls
Betrayal of the day makes the proud sun
Shocked very much

This dawn is broad in vain
While you in a great distance
Collect the nights of love

Turkey: Director of Amnesty International and other activists must be released

The Turkish authorities should immediately release Idil Eser, Director of Amnesty International Turkey, as well as seven human rights defenders and two trainers who were detained after taking part in a workshop, PEN International said today. 

They were taken away by police on 5 July 2017 as they were taking part in a digital security and information management workshop on the island of Büyükada near Istanbul. According to Amnesty International, they were initially held incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and family. Latest media reports say they are currently being held in five different police stations. 

We are appalled by the outrageous detention of Idil Eser and her colleagues and are calling for their immediate and unconditional release’said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International‘We express our heartfelt solidarity with those working to advance human rights in Turkey and with those whose voice has been all but silenced by the authorities. This relentless crackdown must end once and for all’

This latest string of arrests once again sheds light on the sustained onslaught on civil society and freedom of expression in Turkey. Following the coup attempt on 15 July 2016, the Turkish authorities have pursued an unprecedented crackdown against perceived critics and opponents. Over 160 media outlets and publishing houses closed down since July 2016 and around 165 journalists and media workers have been jailed pending trial. Over 145,000 civil servants have been summarily dismissed, with over 47,000 including army, police and teachers jailed pending trial on charges of involvement in the coup plot and of association with the alleged “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation” (FETÖ).

PEN International urges the Turkish authorities to immediately release all those held in prison for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression. As world leaders gather at the G20 summit in Hamburg, the organisation further calls on the international community to urge Turkey to uphold freedom of expression, in line with their international human rights obligations.