The Society of Authors, the Publishers Association and English PEN are launching a joint campaign in aid of imprisoned writers worldwide, called Speak Out.
The campaign will initially focus on two cases of particular concern to PEN: The first is the case of Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, winner of the PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage Prize in 2015, who was arrested five years ago and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for "‘violating Islamic values and propagating liberal thought". The second is that of Turkish writer Ahmet Altan, who was imprisoned in Turkey following July 2016's attempted coup, which also led to the closure of 29 publishers in the country to the consternation of the global publishing community. Altan's first hearing has been scheduled to take place on 19th June.
Members of the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association will be encouraged to join PEN’s supporters in taking action on behalf of these imprisoned writers, 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.
Philip Pullman, president of the Society of Authors, called for Badawi's immediate release. He 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."
Stephen Lotinga, 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."
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. 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."
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