Speak Out: literary community unites for writers at risk

The Society of Authors and the Publishers Association join forces with English PEN to campaign for imprisoned writers across the globe.

English PEN, the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association are pleased to announce the launch of their joint campaign ‘Speak Out’.

English PEN has long campaigned for the rights of writers and other literary professionals who are unjustly persecuted, harassed, imprisoned, and in the most extreme cases murdered, in violation of their right to freedom of expression. Founded in 1960, English PEN’s Writers at Risk Programme – formerly the Writers in Prison Committee – is now one of the world’s longest running campaigns for freedom of expression. The programme seeks to defend and support writers at risk and their families, to pressurise governments where the right to freedom of expression is under attack, and to help bring about the necessary changes to make the freedom to write a reality around the world.

Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said:

English PEN’s members and supporters – writers and readers alike - have always played an important role in their work on behalf of colleagues around the world.  We are delighted that they will now be joining forces with the wider publishing industry in order to increase awareness of and support for individual writers at risk.

The campaign will initially focus on two cases of particular concern to PEN. The first is the Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, winner of the PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage Prize in 2015. Badawi was arrested almost five years ago, on 17 June 2017 and sentenced to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes.

Philip Pullman, President of the Society of Authors, said:

I join many other writers and journalists from all over the world in deploring the action of the Saudi Arabian authorities in imprisoning Raif Badawi and subjecting him to the extraordinary punishment of 1,000 lashes. This is not the action of a wise and confident nation. The best way to gain the respect of free people is to release him at once and cancel all further punishment.

The second case for support is the celebrated Turkish writer Ahmet Altan, acclaimed Turkish novelist, essayist and journalist. Altan is among the many writers and journalists to have been imprisoned in Turkey in the wake of the attempted coup that took place in July 2016. His first hearing has been scheduled to take place on 19 June.   

Members of the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association will be encouraged to join PEN’s supporters in taking action for Badawi and Altan, including sending messages of support, writing to the authorities, signing petitions, and attending PEN’s monthly vigils at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in London.

Stephen Lotinga, the Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, said: 

The Publishers Association will always strive to highlight the plight of publishers and writers like Raif and Ahmet who have been oppressed or imprisoned because of their work. Freedom of expression is one of the fundamental principles that the publishing industry and freedom to publish is based on.  Our community will continue to uphold and promote this principle so that no one is punished because of work they have created or distributed.