Writers in Prison Committee Meeting

Image Credit: Emiliano Bar

2021 PEN International Congress

Writers in Prison Committee Meeting – Summary

On 14 September, representatives from over 60 PEN Centres convened for its annual Writers in Prison Committee (WIPC) meeting. The session provided an opportunity to thank outgoing Chair, Salil Tripathi, and welcome incoming Chair, Ma Thida, elected at the 2021 International Congress. Ma Thida is a surgeon, writer, and political activist who spent over 5 years in prison in Myanmar during the 1990s for her activism against the country’s military regime. Since her release, she has continued to write about events in the country and chaired PEN Myanmar. In light of Myanmar’s recent coup and the military’s suppression of writers, journalists, and artists, Ma Thida’s appointment presents a much-needed spotlight on the country.

The meeting drew attention to the critical situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban’s recent takeover means that Afghan writers, activists, and cultural practitioners—especially women—face imminent danger. The regime change has already seen the murder of two members of Afghanistan PEN, Dawa Khan Menapal and Abdullah Atefi. PEN is presently engaged in supporting writers at risk and flagged its PEN Emergency Fund as an important avenue of financial support to this end. Centres and members are encouraged to donate to the Fund here.

The PEN Case List was further highlighted as a crucial source of information for Centres engaged in advocacy efforts for persecuted writers. The Committee stressed the importance of concentrating not only on individual writers, but also on the root causes behind their cases to ensure a broader advocacy. In addressing emerging trends, the WIPC is preparing resolutions based on: defamation laws; right to information (i.e. internet access, press freedom, and linguistic rights); hate speech; writers at risk; and ad hoc issues (e.g. Myanmar and Afghanistan).

The next WIPC meeting will take place in September 2022 at the Uppsala Congress.

—Christopher Lin

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