This is an invitation to you, if you are an author reading this. If you are not already member of your local Pen, consider joining and as a second step consider volunteering for their Writers in Prison Committee. From Pen International (situated in London) is the following brief overview for last year. The core business is the defense of freedom of speech and the authors who get in dire straits exercising this right.
Over the whole year in 2012, the Committee monitored over 870 attacks:
· 14 writers and journalists killed clearly in relation to their professions
· Another 31 murdered where the circumstances are not clear
· 157 writers are serving long prison terms for their writings in countries including China, Vietnam, Turkey, Eritrea and Uzbekistan
· Another 133 are detained whose cases are under investigation by PEN
· Around 10% of the long term prisoners were freed before the end of their sentences.
· 170 are on trial without being imprisoned
· Other abuses include death threats, imprisonment for short periods and harassment.
The Writers in Prison Committee of International Pen has composed an excellent tool: A guide to defending writers under attack.
You will get information about the Rapid Action Network (the RANs). Through these mails you are informed about a specific case, the relevant addresses for the country concerning the RAN are also provided. You will be asked to write a letter in defense of the author and in defense of free speech. The earlier the phase you do send your letter, the greater the impact. A Pen Centre can also adopt an honorary member who is imprisoned and in need. Pen Flanders has supported Zheng Yichun from China who after seven years is now released without civil rights or political rights, and without funds. So the WIPC is looking for funds so that medication and the special food needed for diabetes can be bought. Memet Bahkir from Turkey has now his documents in order and is living in Germany. Just to name two.
Since it is impossible to follow the events in the whole world we have chosen two areas of interest for which we have the expertise and contacts through several authors: Central Africa and Eastern Europe. We believe that is the way to have a greater impact. Of course with certain other emergencies we will also act.
I look forward to a good collaboration with my colleagues and do feel proud and humbled to be the current president of WIPC-Flanders (Dutch speaking Belgian Pen section)