Every 15th of November throughout the world, PEN (the international writers’ organisation which champions freedom of expression) holds events to mark the International Day of the Imprisoned Writer.
The New Zealand Society of Authors which incorporates PEN honours this event as Courage Day, named jointly after James Courage, a novelist and poet whose novel A way of lovewas banned because he dared to express homosexuality in his writing prior to the setting up of the Indecent Publications Tribunal in 1964, and his grandmother Sarah Courage whose book describing colonial life in New Zealand was burned by neighbours who resented comments she made about them.
This year we are commemorating the 42 writers who lost their lives since Courage Day 2006 as well as the 1000’s of writers, editors, broadcasters and journalists worldwide whose lives are endangered for speaking out against repressive regimes and human rights injustices.
Three writers will feature in our Courage Day events – journalist Anna Politkovskaya, whose work won her the description of “Russia’s lost moral consciousness” and whose murder in October 2006, made headlines worldwide. Turkish-Armenian writer Hrant Dink was shot dead in January 2007 outside his office, after being convicted of “insulting the Turkish identity” after writing about a mass murder committed ninety years ago. And, Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed 10 years ago along with eight others for campaigning against the devastation of the Niger Delta by international oil companies.
PEN is also asking for letters of support for five writers imprisoned for expressing their views –
Cuba – Normando HernÃ¡ndez GonzÃ¡lez– a journalist imprisoned under crackdown on dissidents in 2003 and since held under dire conditions;
Gambia – Fatou Jaw Manneh– a journalist on trial and facing a heavy sentence on charges of sedition for her articles criticising the Gambian president.
Iran – Yaghoub Yadali– a novelist given a one year sentence for his fictional characterisation of the ethnic minority of which he is himself a member;
Uzbekistan – Jamshid Karimov– a journalist who has covered human rights abuses, and wrote critical articles and who has been held in psychiatric detention for over a year.
Yemen – Abdel Karim Al-Khaiweni – former editor of the online publication Al-Shoura who has been under threat since June 2007 for his writings and continued harassment by the military.
It is easy to take freedom of expression for granted in a country like New Zealand.
Courage Day is a reminder of the value of that freedom and of the people in other countries whose writing endangers their freedom and their lives.