PEN Atlas: Jesús Carrasco on writing as work

On Monday 31 August, Jesús Carrasco appears at Edinburgh International Book Festival. Here, the debut author muses on writing as work and why perseverance makes poetry.

Read ‘Writing is like dragging rocks over ice’ here.

Jesús Carrasco and other PEN-supported authors are appearing at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. Find out about their events here.

Read about Carrasco’s novel Out in the Open and buy it through our book partner Foyles on the World Bookshelf.

Bahrain: NGOs call for immediate release of Dr Al-Singace

Bahraini prisoner of conscience Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace today hits a milestone 160 days of hunger strike as rights organisations appeal for his freedom. Forty-one international NGOs today released an urgent appeal addressed to the Government of Bahrain to release the hunger striker.

Read the Appeal (PDF)

On 21 March 2015, Dr Al-Singace went on hunger strike in protest at the collective punishment and acts of torture that police inflicted upon prisoners following a riot in Jau Prison earlier that month. Since then, he has subsisted on water, fizzy drinks and IV injections.

The United States government recently stated their awareness of Dr Al-Singace’s case and urged Bahrain to ensure adequate medical care for all prisoners and an investigation into all reports of mistreatment. The UK government has previously raised his case with Bahrain, though they have never called for his release. The 41 NGOs urge the international community, and in particular the US and the European Union, to call for Dr Al-Singace’s release.

The release of the urgent appeal also coincides with a protest led by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democacy (BIRD), English PEN, Index on Censorship and REDRESS outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, calling for action on Dr Al-Singace’s case and for the UK to put pressure on the Bahraini authorities to end human rights abuses in Bahrain and its prisons.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, said:

The United Kingdom should use its leverage with Bahrain to secure Abduljalil’s release and hold their ally accountable. He is a blogger, a journalist, a thinker and categorically should not be in prison.

Cat Lucas, Writers at Risk Programme Manager, English PEN, said:

PEN remains seriously concerned for Dr Al-Singace, now on the 160th day of his hunger strike in protest at the treatment of his fellow prisoners. We continue to urge the Bahraini authorities to release Dr Al-Singace and the many other writers of concern to PEN unconditionally, and to allow him access to the medical attention he requires, as well as to reading and writing materials, as a matter of urgency.

Jodie Ginsberg, CEO, Index on Censorship, said:

Dr Al-Singace has been on hunger strike for more than five months and the UK has yet to call for his release. His arrest, sentencing and treatment in jail have received international condemnation and we call on Britain to join global counterparts in calling for Dr Al-Singace’s release and ensuring he receives appropriate medical assistance.

Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace is a prisoner of conscience and a member of the Bahrain 13, a group of activists arrested by the Bahraini government for their role in peaceful protests in 2011. A blogger, academic, and former Head of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bahrain, Dr al-Singace is currently serving a life sentence ordered by a military court on 22 June 2011.

Urgent Appeal: Release Prisoner of Conscience Dr Abduljalil al-Singace as Hunger Strike Reaches 160th Day

Dr Abduljalil al-Singace is a prisoner of conscience and a member of the Bahrain 13, a group of activists arrested by the Bahraini government for their role in peaceful protests in 2011. Dr al-Singace is a blogger, academic, and former Head of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bahrain. Dr al-Singace is currently serving a life sentence ordered by a military court on 22 June 2011.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry met with Dr al-Singace in 2011 and collected testimony regarding his arbitrary arrest and torture. Despite the existence of this testimony, in 2012 a civilian appeals court refused to investigate Dr al-Singace’s credible allegations of abuse and upheld the military court’s decision. Dr al-Singace has received no compensation for the acts of torture that he suffered, nor have his torturers been held accountable for their actions.

On 21 March 2015, Dr al-Singace went on hunger strike in protest at the collective punishment and acts of torture that police inflicted upon prisoners following a riot in Jau Prison earlier that month. Today, he passed 160 days of hunger strike.

Dr al-Singace suffers from post-polio syndrome and is disabled. In addition to the torture Dr al-Singace has suffered, his medical conditions have deteriorated considerably as a result of his incarceration. Prison and prison hospital authorities have denied him physiotherapy and surgery to his nose and ears. He is currently being held in solitary confinement in a windowless room in Al-Qalaa hospital.

We remind the Bahraini government of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain acceded to in 2006. Under the ICCPR Bahrain must ensure that no individual is subjected to arbitrary detention (Article 9) and that everyone enjoys the right to freedom of expression (Article 19). We demand that the government release all individuals who are arbitrarily detained for exercising their right to free expression, whether through peaceful assembly, online blogging or other means. We also remind the Bahraini government of its obligations arising from the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), to which Bahrain is a state party. In 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that arbitrary detention and torture are used systematically in the criminal justice system of Bahrain.

We, the undersigned NGOs, call on the Bahraini authorities to release Dr Abduljalil al-Singace and all prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.

We further call on the international community, and in particular EU member states and the United States, to demand release of Dr al-Singace.

Background Information

Dr al-Singace has been the target of judicial harassment since 2009, when he was arrested for the first time and charged with participating in a terror plot and inciting hatred on his blog, Al-Faseela, which was subsequently banned by Bahraini Internet Service Providers. Dr al-Singace had blogged prolifically and critically against governmental corruption in Bahrain. He was later pardoned by the King and released, although his blog remained banned in Bahrain.

In August 2010, police arrested Dr al-Singace on his return from London, where he had spoken at an event hosted by the House of Lords on Bahrain. A security official at the time claimed he had “abused the freedom of opinion and expression prevailing in the kingdom.” Following his arrest, Bahraini security forces subjected Dr al-Singace to acts of physical torture.

Dr al-Singace received a second royal pardon alongside other political prisoners in February 2011. He was rearrested weeks later in March following the imposition of a state of emergency and the intervention of the Peninsula Shield Force, an army jointly composed of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

On 22 June 2011, a military court sentenced Dr al-Singace to life imprisonment. He is one of thirteen leading human rights and political activists arrested in the same period, subjected to torture, and sentenced in the same case, collectively known as the ‘Bahrain 13′. A civilian appeals court upheld the sentence on 22 May 2012. The ‘Bahrain 13′ are serving their prison sentences in the Central Jau Prison. Among the ‘Bahrain 13′, Ebrahim Sharif, former leader of the secular political society Wa’ad, was released by royal pardon on 19 June 2015, but was rearrested weeks later on 11 July, following a speech in which he criticized the government. He currently faces charges of inciting hatred against the regime. On 9 July 2015, the EU Parliament passed an Urgent Resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the ‘Bahrain 13′ and other prisoners of conscience in Bahrain.

During his time in prison, authorities have consistently denied Dr al-Singace the regular medical treatment he requires for his post-polio syndrome, and have failed to provide him with the surgery he requires as a result of the physical torture to which he was subjected in 2011. Dr al-Singace has an infected ear, suffers from vertigo, and has difficulty breathing.

A combination of poor quality prison facilities, overcrowding, systematic torture and ill-treatment led to a riot in Jau Prison on 10 March 2015. Though a minority of prisoners participated in the riot, police collectively punished prisoners, subjecting many of them to torture. Authorities starved prisoners, arbitrarily beat them, and forced them to sleep in courtyards for days, until large tents were erected. Fifty-seven prisoners are currently on trial for allegedly instigating the riot.

In response to these violations, Dr al-Singace began a hunger strike on 21 March. It has now been 160 days since Dr al-Singace has eaten solid foods, and he has lost over 20 kilograms in weight. Dr al-Singace subsists on water, drinking over four litres daily, fizzy drinks for sugar, nutritional supplements, saline injections and yoghurt drink. His intake is monitored by hospital nurses.

Since the start of Dr al-Singace’s hunger strike, he has been transferred to Al-Qalaa Hospital for prisoners, where he has been kept in solitary confinement in a windowless room and has irregular contact with medical staff and family. Prison authorities prevented condolence visits to attend his nephew’s and mother-in-law’s funerals. Dr al-Singace should be immediately released, allowed to continue his work and given full access to appropriate medical treatment without condition.

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Human Rights Observatory
Bahrain Human Rights Society
Bahrain Institute of Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Press Association
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
English PEN
Ethical Journalism Network
European – Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
Index on Censorship
International Forum for Democracy and Human Rights (IFDHR)
Irish PEN 
Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (KRC)
Maharat Foundation
Mothers Legacy Project
No Peace Without Justice
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Rafto Foundation
Reporters Without Borders
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
Sentinel Human Rights Defenders
Shia Rights Watch
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Tunisia Initiative for Freedom of Expression
Wales PEN Cymru

Bahrain: Dr Al-Singace approaches 160 days of hunger strike

This month marks five years since prominent Bahraini academic and blogger Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace was arrested at Bahrain International Airport on 13 August 2010. Five years later, Dr Al-Singace is serving a life sentence for his peaceful opposition activities, and is currently being held in solitary confinement in a windowless room in Al Qalaa hospital where he is being held due to his poor health. This week he will reach the 160th day of his ongoing hunger strike in protest at prison conditions in Bahrain.

Since his arrest five years ago, Dr Al-Singace has been subjected to psychological and physical abuse. Dr Al-Singace suffers from post-polio syndrome, heart, eye, and sinus problems, and requires urgent nasal and ear surger,y but continues to be denied the specialist medical treatment that he needs on the grounds that he refuses to wear a prison uniform. He is also being denied access to writing materials and has not been allowed condolence visits despite the loss of two close family members in recent months.

Sadly, Dr Al-Singace’s case is far from unique. He is one of the Bahrain 13,  a group of high-profile activists, bloggers and others arrested for their role in the 2011 uprising, all of whom have reportedly been subject to ill-treatment during their detention. Indeed the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), established by King Hamad in 2011, found ‘that the NSA and MoI followed a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees in their custody’.

To mark the 160th day of his hunger strike, international organisations will be coming together to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr Al-Singace and his colleagues, and for a full investigation into the allegations of torture he aims to highlight.

London-based organisations BIRD and English PEN will also be holding a protest outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, urging the UK government to take more visible action on behalf of Dr Al-Singace and to put pressure on the Bahraini authorities to end human rights abuses in Bahrain and its prisons. Please join us if you can.

Protest for Dr Al-Singace

Thursday 27 August, 1 – 2pm

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AH

Bring a pen!

Whilst we welcome the recent news that Dr Al-Singace is due to be allowed access to magazines and newspapers, something that he had been denied for several months, we remain concerned that he continues to be denied access to writing materials. Please consider bringing a pen or pad or paper to the protest that can then be sent to the Ministry of the Interior for Dr Al-Singace.

Even if you can’t join us on the day, you can still send a pen. And if you work for a magazine, please consider sending a copy as part of our latest campaign action.

Ahmet Altan’s Endgame

Join English PEN and Canongate Books at the Arcola Theatre this Sunday, 30 August, to celebrate the launch of Endgame, and read an extract of the novel here. 

The town was sleeping.

Someone is always up in a big city but in a small town everyone goes to bed around the same time. That’s something I found out after I got here.

I was sitting under a towering eucalyptus tree on the main street, on one of those old-fashioned benches with names and hearts carved into its dark wooden planks.

I’d wanted to sit there ever since I came to town, but that night was the first time.

I leaned back.

I looked up at the sky.

They were all sleeping, dreaming. Dreaming together.

I watched their dreams slip out through windows, doors and chimneys. I watched them rise up into the clouds, flaunting their colours; I could almost see them, talking, laughing, sobbing, making love. There they all were, entwined in deep embraces on velvet-curtained stages, in stables and on dark streets, in sitting rooms and by the sea. A neighing horse, two women kissing, a tearful child racing through the night, a horde of golden coins, a glistening knife. Sometimes I caught sight of a man or a woman vanishing from their own dreams to haunt the dreams of others.

I watched the town dreaming.

I wasn’t drunk, or at least not from drink. I had just taken a life.

I remembered it like a dream.

But I couldn’t remember much. I remembered an arm – my arm, though somehow it was severed from my body, wandering far away, beyond my grasp. It was holding a gun. I don’t remember pulling the trigger; I only heard the shot. And then I saw a mouth opening, as if to speak, a face contorted, one hand in the air, the other clutching the wound. And then a body falling, but no blood.

What is it people feel when they kill another human being? My body was taut, seized by a fear I had never known before, and then it seemed I had drifted off to sleep.

I left the house and made my way here.

I don’t remember thinking about anything in particular.

I sat down. What a careless novelist I was, no different from God.

A good novelist doesn’t build on coincidence, or stoop to coincidence to get out of a corner.

But God has a savage sense of humour. And coincidence is his favourite joke. And life is nothing but a string of coincidences.

You see, I was a stranger in town. I came from a big city, far away.

I stayed there to write a book about murder. And so what if I turned out to be the killer? I’ll simply put it down as God’s work, another one of his cruel coincidences, taunting his own creation.

The entire town was steeped in dream.

I was the only one awake. Or was I dreaming? The time has come to tell you what happened.

But the story isn’t really mine, and if it is savage beyond belief it is because it comes from the hand of a cruel and indifferent God.
Buy tickets to see Ahmet Altan in conversation with Philippe Sands on 30 August

Pre-order  your copy of Ahmet Altan’s Endgame, translated by Alexander Dawe

Copies will also be available to buy and get signed at the Arcola Theatre 

The Silence and the Roar: talking points from the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club

Report by Jonathan Ruppin

Meeting for the first time, the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club got off to a great start, with a book that provoked a lively discussion, The Silence and the Roar by exiled Syrian writer Nihad Sirees. Even the title divided opinion, with a number of different metaphorical interpretations being advanced.

Here were our five main talking points:

#1: There was some debate about whether fiction was the best way to approach the subject: Nihad Sirees has been clear in interviews that the novel reflects similar situations across the globe, not just Syria, but some felt that the generalities of place took away from the book’s power. (It was acknowledged that we know little about the author’s personal circumstances; it might, for example, be that he has family still in Syria that he needs to protect.) How much resonance would the novel have for readers who had experience of life in a dictatorship?

#2: One point raised was the repetitious nature of some passages (as a group, we lacked sufficient knowledge of contemporary Arabic literature to tell how typical this might be), which led to the suggestion that the novel, which is around 40,000 words long, might have been more effective as a short story. However, setting the story over 24 hours imparted a distinct sense of intensity and claustrophobia that might have been lost in a more truncated approach.

#3: There was debate about the depth of the supporting cast, with some suggesting that they weren’t developed beyond their function in the plot. Many liked the way that Fathi’s sister and mother illustrate the compromises that many make for a comfortable life, but encounters with authority figures, some felt, were set pieces that lacked much in the way of nuance. Did Sirees achieve the right balance between portraying individuals and the archetypes of an oppressive regime?

#4: Fathi’s ‘flawless’ girlfriend Lama was the character who provoked the strongest views. Does her unbounded sexuality show how expressions of genuine feeling could only happen in private? Or does her rigorously maintained beauty offer a counterpoint to the perfection of the Dear Leader?

#5: Other books that came up were Adam Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize winner The Orphan Master’s Son, a surreal romance set in North Korea, Mohammed Hanif’s Man Booker Prize-longlisted A Case of Exploding Mangoes, a novel based on the assassination of Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia ul Haq, and Barbara Demick’s Samuel Johnson Prize winner Nothing to Envy, a non-fiction exposé of life in North Korea today. And many found themselves thinking of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. What else would people recommend as further reading?