19 November 2008


One afternoon in May, police officers stormed City Hall in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where rehearsals were taking place for a play. "The Crocodile of Zambezi" is about an ageing leader of a fictional African country facing political and personal crises. The police accused the play of ridiculing President Robert Mugabe, and said they were sent to "censor or stop any suspicious performances." And although the crew vowed to end the show after only having delivered a single performance, the police gave crew members a severe beating and banned the play altogether.

That Zimbabwean crew has been chosen as one of five stories to mark International PEN's Day of the Imprisoned Writer on 15 November. PEN urges you to send a letter on behalf of the actors and the thousands of writers who have been jailed, harassed or persecuted this year alone because of their work.

Each year PEN focuses on five cases - one from each world region, each illustrating a different kind of repression. There is Eynulla Fatullayev, a journalist from Azerbaijan who is serving an eight-year sentence for his writings on politics and investigations into the murder of another journalist in 2005. Tsering Woeser is a woman poet from Tibet whose work is banned in China. Mohammed Sadiq Kabudvand, a Kurdish journalist based in Iran, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for advocating Kurdish rights. Melissa Rocío Patiño Hinostroza is a young poet on trial for charges of terrorism based on her involvement with a left-wing political organisation - although she has never used nor advocated violence.

Some PEN centres chose to focus on other cases closer to home to commemorate the day. In Somalia, for example, PEN organised a day-long symposium in Mogadishu on 15 November that brought together writers, journalists, human rights activists, government representatives and others to debate free expression violations amid the backdrop of a civil war. Other readings and events were also held across Africa: in Sierra Leone, Uganda, Malawi, Ghana and Guinea.

Swedish PEN awarded Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho with the Tucholsky Award, granted to writers who have fought for the right to free expression, while the Oxfam Novib PEN Freedom of Expression Award will be presented at the Crossing Borders Festival on 22 November in The Hague to five writers and journalists who have been jailed or threatened for their writing.

See what happened in your country or region here: http://tinyurl.com/68r9z7
PEN is also commemorating the 39 writers and journalists murdered as a result of their work since last year's Day of the Imprisoned Writer. In very few cases have the perpetrators been brought to justice. Mexico, Iraq and Pakistan remain the countries where to be a writer or journalist is a dangerous profession.

PEN says it is not too late to send an appeal with copies to your embassy on behalf of at least one of the highlighted cases. Advice and addresses are given with each profile, which can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/6s5zzx
Christopher Mlalazi and Raisedon Baya, two of the cast members of "Crocodile", hope that International PEN's efforts will make their case heard around the world. "We hope that it will also inspire other production houses and writers all over the world not to take things lying down, just as we have been inspired by others who have come before us," they said.

'Tis the season - International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) is also asking that you send greetings cards to writers in prison or their families. For more details of this initiative, email: wipc (@) internationalpen.org.uk

(Photo of "The Crocodile of Zambezi" coutesy of International PEN)

(19 November 2008)

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