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Writers in Prison Committee commemorates 50 years

(WiPC/IFEX) - LONDON, 15 November 2010 - The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International commemorates its fiftieth year in 2010, on the International Day of the Imprisoned Writer, and pays tribute to 41 writers around the world who have been killed in the last year.

"The Writers in Prison Committee has played a leading role in documenting human rights abuses experienced by writers across the globe for half a century," says Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee. "On 15 November we draw attention to current urgent situations, while recalling hundreds and hundreds of cases of individuals who have been imprisoned, harassed, physically assaulted or even murdered, simply because they have exercised their right to freely express their thoughts and ideas."

The awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, founding President of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, gives this year's anniversary a special pertinence, continues Botsford Fraser: "On the one hand, we celebrate the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to our PEN colleague, Liu Xiaobo, for his dedication to free expression and democracy in China. But, on the other hand, Mr Liu is publicly denounced as a criminal and is serving an 11-year sentence, along with almost 40 other Chinese writers. Since the announcement of the award in early October, the detention and harassment of Chinese dissidents has escalated alarmingly."

Elsewhere, the dangerous situation for writers and journalists in Mexico continues - nine have been killed just this year. In Iran, the WiPC has 37 recorded cases of writers, bloggers and journalists currently imprisoned. In the past year, four journalists have been killed in Pakistan, three in Nigeria.

Throughout 2010, PEN centres are casting a spotlight on current and previous WiPC work, with special projects, books, awards and events. For example, German PEN will host an event in Berlin on 15 November, focusing on the work of Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievitch who is unable to publish in her own country. Catalan PEN and Swedish PEN announce the winners of PEN awards. In Scotland and Australia, PEN centres have held exhibitions of different "empty chairs", evoking the absence of those many writers missing from the public sphere because they are imprisoned. Cuban and Chinese PEN members living in exile from their respective countries have translated various writings and profiles of imprisoned writers into Spanish and Chinese. English PEN and Italian PEN are publishing collections of articles on the themes of free expression and literature.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the WiPC, PEN International President, John Ralston Saul, also offers a comment: "For 50 years, the WiPC at PEN International has led the human rights community worldwide in tracking the status of writers in danger and in prison and working for their freedom and safety. In spite of our continual successes, the list of those in danger remains unconscionably long. And so the work of WIPC is, if anything, more important than ever."

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