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Lydia Cacho, the famous Mexican author and investigative journalist, has been the target of death threats, sabotage, defamation suits and police harassment because of her work uncovering prostitution and child pornography networks in Mexico. But she has never stopped writing, partly because of the messages of solidarity she received. "I do believe that all these people... saved my life by writing letters, by being there, by making calls or even just by thinking or wishing that I was alive," she said at a PEN American Center event in 2007.

It is in this same spirit of solidarity that the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN is asking you to take action as part of its Freedom to Write in the Americas campaign.

Last year WiPC counted 184 attacks against writers and journalists in Latin America alone. These included seven murders and one forced disappearance, all in Mexico, the most dangerous country in the Americas for a journalist. Another30 were jailed throughout the region, 25 of which were in Cuba on anti-state or "social dangerousness" charges.

So this year, the countries with the highest volume of attacks and severity of persecution in 2008 - Mexico and Cuba, as well as Venezuela, Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua - are the primary focus of the campaign.

Freedom to Write in the Americas aims to highlight the persecution of these writers and journalists and others, and asks you to provide support to colleagues in trouble.

You can write to the authorities on behalf of Melissa Rocío Patiño Hinostroza, a 20-year-old poet and university student, who is on trial for terrorism in Peru, for her alleged involvement with a left-wing political organisation. She potentially faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

Or you can demand the release of the 21 writers and editors in prison in Cuba - many of them arrested in the 2003 "Black Spring" crackdown on the independent press.

The Freedom to Write in the Americas website provides materials and other suggestions for actions in both Spanish and English at:

While the situation may appear dire, WiPC draws inspiration from its successful campaigns over the decades on behalf of writers in the Americas such as Cacho, Maria Elena Cruz Varela (Cuba), Myrna Mack Chang (Guatemala) and Brigadier General José Gallardo Rodríguez (Mexico).

There's also Yehude Simon Munaro, a writer and politician from Peru who was jailed in 1992 for eight years on false terrorism charges. After his release Munaro wrote to International PEN, "The life of a prisoner is hard and desperate, even more so when the victim is innocent. I do not know what I would have done without your oceanic solidarity." Munaro became Prime Minister of Peru in October 2008.

To receive email updates on the campaign or to get more info on the campaign, contact Tamsin Mitchell, WiPC researcher for the Americas at tamsin.mitchell (@)

(Photo of popular Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, an emblematic case in WiPC's Freedom to Write in the Americas campaign)

(25 February 2009)

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