The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) was set up in 1960 as a result of mounting concern about attempts to silence critical voices around the world through the detention of writers. It works on behalf of all those who are detained or otherwise persecuted for their opinions expressed in writing, and for writers who are under attack for their peaceful political activities or for the practice of their profession, provided that they did not use violence or advocate violence or racial hatred.
The International PEN Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) gathers its information from a wide variety of sources and compiles it in its biannual Case List. It seeks to confirm its information through two independent sources. Where its information is unconfirmed, it will either not take action, or an appeal will be sent, worded to reflect the fact that the information is as yet incomplete. Sources include press reports, reports from individuals in the region in question, reports from other human rights groups, PEN members themselves, embassy officials, academics, prisoners’ families, lawyers and friends, exile groups, and international non-governmental organizations.
Case information is then sent on to the Writers in Prison Committee’s of PEN centres around the world, who take whatever action is deemed appropriate for that particular case. This may include writing letters of appeal to the authorities in the country of concern, lobbying government officials in their own countries, writing letters of solidarity to the families, friends and colleagues of persecuted writers, signing petitions, organising demonstrations, and publicising the case information in the local and national press.
English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee is made up of around 20 English PEN members dedicated to working on behalf of persecuted writers around the world. Our work falls into six main categories:
1) Letter Writing
This personal writer-to-writer dimension is part of our unique way of work, which makes PEN different from other human rights NGOs. We have a system of Honorary Members, writers who have been imprisoned or threatened, and for whom one or more committee members acts as a ‘minder.’ Currently we have 29 honorary members in 13 countries who have been been supported by letters to themselves, their families, and the authorities responsible for their incarceration. Our aim is to make our Honorary Members aware of the fact that there are people around the world who have not forgotten them, and who are tirelessly working on their behalf.
2) The Rapid Action Network
The Rapid Action Network, by which English PEN informs members of its most urgent cases, is expanding rapidly, and now has over 160 members. The purpose of the network is to alert members as rapidly as possible to disturbing developments affecting the welfare of writers and journalists around the globe, and to encourage them to respond instantly by writing a letter of appeal and passing the information on to their contacts.
Distributed by email, each alert or ‘RAN’ gives members the confirmed facts of the case; a paragraph stating clearly what PEN’s concerns are about the case; a sample appeal; and the address, fax numbers or email address to which appeals should be addressed. The Rapid Action Network is also be used to bring you updates from the Writers in Prison Committee (for example, when a prisoner is acquitted) or when specific appeals arise.
If you are interested in joining the Rapid Action Network, please email [email protected]
One very important aspect of WiPC work is our missions overseas. In recent years representatives of the WiPC have travelled to Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkey, the Maldives, Azerbaijan and Egypt. Missions may be on behalf of a detained or persecuted Honorary Member, to attend trials, as has been the case in Turkey over recent years, or to try and ease tensions between writers and their governments.
4) Protest and advocacy
The WiPC protests and demonstrates as part of its advocacy for imprisoned writers. Most recently, in the months since our Honorary Member Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with breaching the conditions of her house arrest, we have held two demonstrations outside the Burmese Embassy in London, at which over 200 people were present. Such demonstrations not only clearly illustrate our concerns to Embassy representatives, they also raise awareness in the UK, where they are often covered by local and national press. Furthermore, news of such actions has been known to provide a much-needed moral boost to the prisoners on behalf of whom we demonstrate.
The WiPC organises events with the aim of raising awareness of the persecution faced by writers overseas who seek to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression, and also to raise funds. This year we were extremely proud of the stunning ‘Breaking through the Silence’, a concert held at St Margaret’s Church in honour of persecuted Burmese writers. We are now looking forward to our annual service to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street on Sunday 15 November.
‘Another Sky: Voices of Conscience from Around the World’, the anthology of writing by threatened writers, co-edited by Carole Seymour-Jones and Lucy Popescu, continues to go from strength to strength. The book has been published in the USA by New York University Press as ‘Writers Under Seige’ and is currently being translated into Italian. Extracts from the anthology have been read and discussed at events across the country, taking the work of detained writers to a wider audience. The WiPC is also gathering material for a new volume of prison writing.
We are also looking for new ways to facilitate the publication and translation opportunities for our many cases of concern arond the world.
To view International PEN WiPC’s case list of persecuted writers, please click here.
To view English PEN’s Honorary Members click on the link in the left-hand margin.
There are a number of ways you can get involved in the work of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee:
– If you are member of English PEN and are interested in becoming an active member of the Writers in Prison Committee please email [email protected]
– Check the WiPC bulletins whenever you have a spare minute for up-to-date information about PEN’s cases of concern, and to take the actions suggested.
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/aboutthewipc/