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Writers in Prison

Turkish novelist and PEN Main Case, Asli Erdoğan (R) comes of Bakirkoy, a women's prison in Istanbul in December 2016, after spending more than four months in prison. Getty Images.

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International works on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide. It was established in 1960 in response to increasing attempts to silence voices of dissent by imprisoning writers and journalists.

Working on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide, the WiPC monitors between 700-900 cases across the globe each year. The WiPC mobilises the wider PEN community to take action through its Rapid Action Network alerts, targeted regional campaigns, and by utilising PEN’s consultative status with the UN to submit UPR country reports.

The Committee’s Rapid Action Network Alerts provide details of cases of individuals whose lives and liberty are being threatened and makes specific suggestions for action.

In addition to its work on behalf of individual writers, the Committee creates campaigns on issues affecting freedom of expression, such as Religious Defamation, Impunity and Criminal Defamation, and campaigns focused on specific regions or countries, such as the Americas, Iran, China and Turkey.

The Writers in Prison Committee also works through the UN to bring attention to individual cases and to systemic human rights problems in specific countries.

Ma Thida is a surgeon, writer and political commentator who spent 5½ years in prison in the 1990s for her activism. In 1995-96 she was the recipient of some awards including PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award and Reebok Human Rights award but she was not released until 1999. Ever since her release she has monitored and written on events in Burma. She was the fellow of the International Writing program at university of Iowa in 2005, of the International Writers project at Brown university in 2008-09 and of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2009-10. With the lifting of the military regime, some colleagues and she founded PEN Myanmar in 2013 and she became the first president of it till 2016. And she was elected as board member of PEN International in 2016 and 2019. In 2016 Ma Thida was awarded the first annual “Disturbing the Peace” award by the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation in New York. She is currently at the South East Asia Studies of Mc Millan center of Yale University as research associate.

I remember very well the wave of solidarity at the turn of the 1980s to protest against my incarceration. There were protests ... from PEN International Writers in Prison has always been a source of great encouragement.

Vaclav Havel Extract from Czech playwright and former PEN President's Letter to the PEN Writers in Prisons Committee, September 2009