English PEN stands in solidarity with Arundhati Roy

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
3:30pm Tuesday 26th October 2010

English PEN stands in solidarity with Arundhati Roy

English PEN, the writers association campaigning for free expression worldwide, today issues a statement in support of the writer Arundhati Roy, and urges the Indian authorities to rule out charges of sedition against her.

News reports from India state that Roy, the author of the Booker Prize winning novel The God of Small Things, will be arrested and charged with ‘sedition’ over comments she made on Kashmir.

In statement issued to news organisations and campaigners (reproduced below), Roy claims she said only “what millions of people here say every day” and that her comments against India’s operations in Kashmir were made in support of her fellow countrymen.

Lisa Appignanesi, President of English PEN, said:

“Since June, Kashmiri journalists and broadcasters attempting to report on unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir have been subject to violence and gagging.

Booker Prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy has now stepped forward to draw the world’s attention to the plight of Kashmiris. The truth of what is happening in Kashmir needs to be told. Brutality by the state, and the silencing of reporters, is no option for a modern India.”

The author Hari Kunzru said:

“I’m
concerned to hear that Arundhati Roy may face sedition charges. India trumpets its
status as the world’s largest democracy, but the  Indian establishment is notoriously unwilling
to listen to dissident  voices. Whether
or not one agrees with Roy’s positions on Kashmir or the  Maoist insurgency in Central India, the
issues she raises are important  and
deserve to be debated. The willingness by elements of the Indian  establishment to use the legal system to
intimidate critics is  lamentable.
India’s writers are an important part of the nation’s  identity on the international stage.
Supporting their right to free  speech
goes hand in hand with applauding them when they win the Booker prize. One is meaningless without the
other.”

Laws of ‘sedition’ (criticising the state) are routinely used by governments all around the world to threaten critics of official policy and state actions. In former British colonies, these are based on archaic English laws. Last year, English PEN campaigned successfully to ensure the remnants of such laws were removed from the English statute books, but elsewhere in the Commonwealth they remain law.

Robert Sharp, Campaigns Manager at English PEN, said:

We urge the Indian government and the police to make a public statement, withdrawing the threat of charges against Arundhati Roy.

The laws of sedition are a sinister part of Britain’s colonial legacy. India should not be using such laws to silence debate. We ask the Indian parliament to protect free speech by abolishing laws of sedition, as their colleagues elsewhere in the Commonwealth have done in recent years.

Statement by Arundhati Roy

I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.

Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get ‘insaf’-justice-from India, and now believed that Azadi-freedom- was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I travelled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.

In the papers some have accused me of giving ‘hate-speeches’, of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.

Arundhati Roy, October 26 2010

Notes to Editors

  • English PEN is the founding centre of PEN International, the worldwide association of writers. Established in 1921, PEN will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2011.
  • English PEN’s international campaigns are led by its Writers in Prison Committee, which celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2010. There are currently over 900 people on the Writers in Prison Committee case list of writers under threat worldwide.
  • The English laws of Criminal Libel and Seditious Libel were abolished as part of the Coroners & Justice Act 2009.
    Other Commonwealth countries to have abolished laws of sedition include New Zealand and Ghana.

Contact
Robert Sharp, Campaigns Manager: 020 7324 2538 / 07790 420011 or robert [at] englishpen.org

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/news/_1678

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