March 2022 newsletter


  • Opening message featuring Andrey Kurkov
  • Upcoming event(s): Patron’s Lecture featuring Kylie Moore-Gilbert
  • Emergency headline: Ukraine-Russia conflict
  • Australian writers in prison: Yang Hengjun and Julian Assange
  • Oceania focus: Hany Babu (India) and Zaw Lin Htut (Burma)
  • Notable women writers and journalists

Opening message

COVID starts its third year of chaos. Combat continues in Ukraine and Russia. Australia’s east coast flooded. Writers continue to be detained for asserting their right to independent thought and support for human rights. In a conflict-ridden world, acclaimed Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov suggests ways we can fight for freedom of responsible expression and human rights:

‘There are two ways to fight, to assert your rights and freedoms: a noisy way and a quiet way. The noisy option involves demonstrations, political campaigns, rallies through which the topic of the violation of rights and freedoms becomes relevant in a country. The quiet way involves work with words. This is the work of writers, journalists, university professors and many others who do not allow these vital social topics to fade from public view, to become something trivial and taken for granted and finally, something that can be done without.’ (Andrey Kurkov in his 2018 address Human Rights And Literature: USSR, Post-Soviet Ukraine, And Russia in Hong Kong)

With that, PEN Perth cordially invites you to join our fight, however noisy or quiet your chosen method. We cannot afford for vital social topics of intellectual freedom and human dignity to fade from public view.

Bio: Andrey Kurkov (pictured below) is a Ukrainian novelist and an independent thinker who writes in Russian. He is the author of 19 novels, including the bestselling Death and the Penguin, 9 books for children, and about 20 documentary, fiction and TV movie scripts.

Event: Patron’s lecture featuring Kylie Moore-Gilbert

Date: 6-7pm, 7 April

Location: State Library of WA

Formerly detained British-Australian writer Kylie Moore-Gilbert shares her remarkable experience in the launch of her memoir The Uncaged Sky. In 2018, British-Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert was sentenced to 10 years in an Iranian jail on unsubstantiated charges of espionage. The Uncaged Sky recounts the full details of the 804 days Moore-Gilbert spent imprisoned in Tehran’s Evin and Qarchak prisons. Written with vivid and insightful immediacy, this is a remarkably clear-eyed reflection on the power of hope, resistance and what it means to be free.

Emergency headline: Ukraine-Russia conflict

PEN International collected over 1000 signatures from writers and artists around the world in just 24 hours – including Nobel laureates Sveltana Alexievitch, Orhan Pamuk, Maria Ressa, and Olga Tokarczuk. PEN Perth’s signatories include poet Dennis Haskel, novelist Susan Midalia and other members. Please read the full letter on PEN International’s website here:

PEN International conducted dialogues with prominent Ukrainian writers and experts. See them on their Facebook page here.

Here is a popular Instagram post PEN Perth made to honour this struggle:

Australian focus

PEN Perth brings your attention to Australian journalists and writers in prison. Actions you can take include sending appeals to relevant authorities and spreading awareness about their plight through social media and publications.

Yang is a Chinese-Australian writer considered a divisive figure in China. Based on his abundant personal experience “within the Chinese system”, Yang wrote spy novels in English and Chinese, under the pen name Wei Shi. In August 2019 he was formally arrested on charges of espionage. Yang and the Australian government have strenuously denied that he spied for Australia. The 56-year-old’s deteriorating health could see him eventually die behind bars. See here for more of the story and actions you can take.

Julian Assange is an Australian computer programmer who founded the media organization WikiLeaks. Among the wide-ranging topics covered in WikiLeaks were behind-the-scenes U.S. efforts to politically and economically isolate Iran, primarily in response to fears of Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. In May 2011 Assange was awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal, an honour that had previously been bestowed on Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, for his ‘exceptional courage in pursuit of human rights.’ Assange has been confined in Belmarsh maximum-security prison in London since April 2019. See here for more of the story and actions with PEN Sydney and PEN Melbourne.

Oceania focus

Moving across the ocean, PEN Perth brings your attention to courageous characters across the Asia-Pacific, as well as updates on scenarios we have been following:

Hany Babu is Associate Prof in English at Delhi University. He is a tireless advocate for Linguistic Rights for the minorities and has been detained by the government of India, without trial for over 18 months. See here for more information.

Zaw Lin Htut is a freelance reporter and a member of Peacock Generation (Daung Doh Myo Sat), a group that performs thangyat, a traditional form of political satire popular in Myanmar. He was released in June 2020 but recaptured in 2021 on the way to a protest (recent news story here).

Notable women writers and journalists

International Women’s Day was on 8/03/2022. Here we highlight:

  • PEN International Women Writers Committee. The Women Writers’ Committee was set up in 1991 to promote certain issues faced by women writers around the world – challenges at family and national levels such as unequal education, unequal access to resources and actual prohibition from writing.
  • The women of possibility (translated into English from Vietnamese by Will Nguyen). This article acknowledges three Vietnamese female pro-democracy activists who highlighted the Communist regime’s disregard for women’s rights: Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Can Thi Theu and Pham Doan Trang. More than two years after the Vietnamese article was published in 2019, all three women in this article have been arrested and charged with national security laws in Vietnam.

Thank you for reaching the end of this newsletter.

Please considering donating to PEN Perth here.

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