Update:Egypt: Poet Galal El-Behairy is at risk after 80 days on hunger strike


25 May: PEN International raises serious concerns about the health of imprisoned Egyptian poet and lyricist Galal El-Behairy after 80 days on hunger strike. Earlier in May 2023, PEN International received a message from El-Behairy announcing that he will escalate his hunger strike on 1 June 2023, refusing to take fluids, in protest against his continued unjust detention. This follows a message PEN International received from El-Behairy in February, announcing that he would begin a hunger strike on 5 March, the fifth anniversary of his arrest.

Despite fully serving an unjust 3 year sentence by a military court in July 2021, Egyptian prosecutors subsequently brought forth additional fabricated charges against El-Behairy, leading to his continued arbitrary pre-trial detention. El-Behairy’s health has significantly deteriorated due to torture and inhumane detention conditions over five years of imprisonment, and he has reportedly lost considerable weight since he began striking in March 2023.

PEN International believes that El-Behairy is being targeted for his writings, which are critical of the Egyptian authorities. The organisation believes that El-Behairy’s life is at grave risk, and holds the Egyptian authorities responsible for El-Behairy’s physical and psychological health and well-being, and Egypt’s General Prosecutor Hamada El-Sawy, for his unfair imprisonment. PEN International calls on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release El-Behairy and drop all charges against him, and to ensure that he receives urgent and adequate medical care, pending his release.



Please send appeals to the Egyptian authorities, urging them to:

  • Release Galal El-Behairy immediately and unconditionally

  • Drop all charges against him;

  • Ensure that, pending his release, he is held in conditions that meet international standards for the treatment of prisoners, including by providing urgent access to adequate health care and regular communication with his family and lawyers.

Send appeals to:

·       Hamada El-Sawy
Role: Head of Egypt’s Public Prosecutor
Email: m.office@ppo.gov.eg
WhatsApp: +201111755959

·       Abdel Fattah El Sisi
Role: President of Egypt
Email: p.spokesman@op.gov.eg

Send copies to the Egyptian Embassy in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: https://www.embassypages.com/egypt

Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Egypt, calling on them to raise the case of  Galal El-Behairy with the Egyptian authorities and at bilateral fora.

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 30 June 2023. ***


Please send messages of solidarity to Galal El-Behairy through English PEN’s PENWrites Campaign.

Social Media

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Take part in a Twitter storm on Thursday,1 June 2023 – between 12 and 3 pm Egypt time / 10 am and 1 pm UK time, targeting:

o   Egypt’s Public Prosecutor’s Office: @EgyptianPPO

o   The President of Egypt:  @AlsisiOfficial

o   Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs: @MfaEgypt

Sample messages are available here.


  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Galal El-Behairy and the state of freedom of expression in Egypt;

  • Share information about Galal El-Behairy and your campaigning activities via social media. Don’t forget to add #FreeGalal.

Please keep PEN International informed of your solidarity actions.


Dear friends,

I hope my message finds you well. Please see below PEN International’s latest call for rapid action on behalf of imprisoned Egyptian Poet Galal El-Behairy. He has been on hunger strike to protest against his unjust pre-trial detention for 80 days. Earlier in May, PEN International received a message from El-Behairy, in which he announced his plan to escalate his hunger strike on 1 June 2023, refusing fluids and medicines.


Fears are mounting over El-Behairy’s physical and psychological health, which has significantly deteriorated due to torture, inhumane detention conditions, and lack of adequate medical care over five years of imprisonment, and he has reportedly lost considerable weight since he began striking in March 2023. Today, PEN International has launched an extended call for rapid action to raise concerns over his health and reiterate its calls for his release.You can find PEN International’s call for rapid action titled: “Egypt: Poet Galal El-Behairy is at risk after 80 days on hunger strike” on the following link: https://www.pen-international.org/news/galal-el-behairy-is-at-risk-after-80-days-on-hunger-strike.


The link continues all background information on Galal El-Behairy’s case, a translation of his recent message, and links to his translated poems.

PEN International believes that El-Behairy is being targeted for his writings, which are critical of the Egyptian authorities. The organisation believes that El-Behairy’s life is at grave risk, and holds the Egyptian authorities responsible for El-Behairy’s physical and psychological health and well-being, and Egypt’s General Prosecutor Hamada El-Sawy, for his unfair imprisonment. PEN International calls on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release El-Behairy and drop all charges against him, and to ensure that he receives urgent and adequate medical care, pending his release.


I urge you to take immediate action and call for Galal El-Behairy’s immediate and unconditional release. It would also be great if you could raise his case through your countries’ respective diplomatic channels. Sending letters to the Egyptian ambassador in your country would also help. Please spread the word, write about Galal’s ordeal in your articles and on social media, and share this with your media contacts.


I also invite you to take part in our Twitter storm on Thursday,1 June 2023 – between 12 (noon) and 3 pm Egypt time / 10 am and 1 pm London time.


The details are included in the call for action.


Please, do not hesitate to get back to me if you have any questions or require any further information.


In solidarity,




Mina Thabet 

Head of The MENA Region

E: Mina.thabet@Pen-international.org

www.pen-international.org | Support PEN’s work

Over 100 Nobel Laureates join PEN International in support of Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski

Today, PEN International has released a letter signed by over 100 Nobel Laureates, expressing solidarity with writer, human rights defender, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and PEN member Ales Bialiatski, and condemning the Belarusian authorities’ brutal, relentless, and systematic crackdown on independent voices. The letter marks two months since Bialiatski was sentenced to 10 years in prison on spurious grounds.

The solidarity action, featured in The Guardian, includes signatures by Nobel Prize for Literature Laureates and PEN International Vice Presidents Svetlana Alexievich, J. M. Coetzee, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize for Literature Laureates Annie Ernaux, Kazuo Ishiguro and Olga Tokarczuk, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, among many others.

“Ales Bialiatski has devoted his life to the promotion of democracy and human rights in Belarus. He has dared to hold President Aliaksandr Lukašenka accountable for his brutal, relentless, and systematic crackdown on independent voices. For this, he is paying the heaviest price: ten years in prison on spurious grounds.” – open letter to Ales Bialiatski.

The full story and a link to the letter are available at the P.I. website:


On 21 February 2013, International Mother Language Day, PEN International will mobilize its Centres in support of Belarusian writer, human rights defender, 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner and PEN Belarus member Ales Bialiatski, detained since 2021 and currently on trial.


Bialiatski is the founder of the Viasna Human Rights Centre (Viasna), an organisation that campaigns for opposition activists who are harassed and persecuted by the Belarusian authorities. His case is emblematic of the type of threats and attacks writers and journalists around the world are often subjected to, for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. It is also emblematic of the type of oppression experienced by writers and journalists who are prevented from expressing themselves in their indigenous or minoritised language.


International Mother Language Day is a stirring reminder of the ongoing need to preserve and protect linguistic and cultural diversity across the globe. It accentuates the crucial need to uplift those, like Ales Bialiatski, who ardently defend their right to speak their mother tongue. We stand in solidarity with Bialiatski in his ceaseless fight for human rights and democratic values in Belarus, despite the government’s persistent endeavours to silence him.  Urtzi Urrutikoetxea, Chair of PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee

Ales Bialiatski (Belarus)


Bialiatski is currently on trial in Minsk. He faces up to 12 years in prison in relation to his human rights work and his writings that are critical of the Belarusian authorities. The verdict against him will be announced on 3 March 2023.


Bialiatski’s trial opened at the Lieninski District Court of Minsk on 9 January 2023. He stands accused of smuggling (Article 228.4 of the Belarusian Criminal Code) and organising and financing actions that grossly violate public order (Article 342.2 of the Belarusian Criminal Code). Throughout the trial, Bialiatski repeatedly asked that the prosecutor and the court conduct the trial in Belarusian, to no avail. According to Viasna, Bialiatski notably said:


‘The situation with the language used in court appears to be extraordinary: the prosecution and the court refused steadfast to speak Belarusian, despite the fact that I, as the accused, am a Belarusian-speaking person in life. I speak, write, and think in Belarusian. I remind you that the Belarusian language is a state language, and you, as state officials, should know two state languages, including Belarusian, and not struggle to say two words. Therefore, you are obliged to speak, accordingly, in Belarusian with Belarusian-speaking citizens. For example, as provided for by the Law ‘On Appeals of Citizens’, if you write in Belarusian, any official department will respond to you in Belarusian. This put me in an unequal position with the prosecution. I was not given the opportunity to explain my position thoroughly and in detail, to dispute the unjust and senseless accusation”.


It is not the first time Bialiatski has been targeted by the Belarusian authorities. On 4 August 2011, he was arrested on spurious charges of tax evasion, for solely using his personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to fund Viasna, as the organisation is not allowed to hold a bank account in Belarus. On 24 November 2011, he was sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ imprisonment in a high security prison colony. PEN members actively campaigned for his release; he was amnestied in June 2014.


PEN International calls on the Belarusian authorities to release Ales Bialiatski immediately and unconditionally, and drop all charges against him, and demands that he is provided with regular communication with his family, lawyers and adequate health care, pending his release. The organisation also calls on the authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations and uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly for all.


Crackdown against the Belarusian language and literature


The stigmatisation and repression of the Belarusian language and literature in Belarus, where the authorities have been seeking to assert the dominance of the Russian language for decades, have worsened since the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022.  PEN International has long supported PEN Belarus in promoting the Belarusian language, including through a 2019 resolution calling on the Belarusian authorities to:

  • Comply with Article 17 of the Constitution of Belarus, which enshrines Belarusian as an official language;
  • Respect, protect and fulfil the right of all those who speak Belarusian to express themselves in that language and to have their literature promoted and distributed;
  • Ensure that those wishing to study in Belarusian-language classes, including at the higher education level, are provided with such opportunities;
  • Take effective measures to promote the wider use of the Belarusian language in all areas of life, including cultural life.




Note to editors:

  • For further information, please contact Sabrina Tucci, PEN International Communications and Campaigns Manager, Tucci@pen-international.org


Please consider donating to our Writers-at-Risk Crisis Appeal.

PEN International joins PEN Centres worldwide in call for release of Chinese writer and journalist Dong Yuyu

We, the undersigned PEN Centres, are deeply concerned with the detention of Chinese writer and journalist Dong Yuyu on charges of “espionage”. We call for the charges against him to be dropped and for Dong to be released.

Police initially detained Dong Yuyu on 21 February 2022 at a hotel in Beijing while he was having lunch with a Japanese diplomat, who was also briefly detained. On 23 March 2023, authorities informed Dong’s family that his case had been sent to court for trial on charges of “espionage” though no hearing date has been set and the process may take several months or longer before a trial commences.

His family have been denied contact with him for the duration of his detention and he has only been granted one meeting with his lawyer. For the first six months of his detention, he was held in “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a form of detention which United Nations human rights experts described as “tantamount to enforced disappearance”. If convicted, he faces between ten years and life imprisonment.

Dong Yuyu is a liberal commentator and deputy head of the editorial department for Guangming Daily, a state-owned newspaper, where he has worked since 1987. He was awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, United States in 2006-07 and was a visiting scholar of Japan’s Keio University in 2010 and Hokkaido University in 2014.

In 1998, he co-edited the book Political China: Facing an Era of Choices for a New System, which contained essays contributed by liberal scholars about judicial independence. In addition to his writing for Guangming Daily, which mainly covered opinion pieces on economic issues, he had written columns for The New York Times Chinese website from 2012-2014, including the essay “I want to send my son to study in the United States” which continues to circulate on Chinese media. Another essay of his, the book review “Viewing the Cultural Revolution from the Perspective of National Politics,” later led to Dong being labeled as “anti-socialist” in 2017. He reportedly wrote less after that investigation, though penned an opinion piece in 2018 criticizing local government officials that went viral.

Dong Yuyu often met with diplomats, journalists, and scholars from other countries as a part of his job to better understand global issues. He knew his communications were monitored by state security and the meetings were always held in a public location. More than 60 journalists and scholars have signed an open letter calling for his release.

The PRC government has an overbroad and vague definition of espionage, which has become broader in scope recently. On 26 April, China’s legislature voted to adopt revisions to the Counter-Espionage Law, to go into effect on 1 July, which bans the transfer of any information “related to national security and interests” without defining what that encompasses, providing authorities with discretionary powers to effectively criminalize the sharing of information overseas.

Dong’s arrest and the revision of Counter-Espionage Law are part of an effort by the PRC government to create a chilling effect that makes Chinese nationals, especially journalists and scholars in state-owned institutions, afraid to contact foreign nationals.

Dong Yuyu’s case also has similarities to Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who was put on trial on charges of espionage in May 2021 after two years in pre-trial detention. PEN Centres have also been calling for Yang’s immediate and unconditional release.

We believe that Dong Yuyu is being unjustly detained in reprisal for his writing and interacting with foreign nationals to help inform his global views, in violation of his right to freedom of expression enshrined under China’s Constitution and international human rights law. We call on authorities to unconditionally drop the charges against him and release him immediately.

This statement has been signed by:

  • PEN International

  • Independent Chinese PEN Center

  • PEN America

  • Vietnamese Abroad PEN Centre

  • PEN Esperanto

  • Croatian PEN

  • PEN Romania

  • Pen Tibetan Writers Abroad Centre

  • Basque PEN

  • PEN New Zealand

  • PEN Afghanistan

  • PEN Club France

  • Danish PEN

  • PEN Melbourne

  • PEN Netherlands

  • Swedish PEN

  • Estonian PEN

  • PEN Türkiye

  • PEN Eritrea

  • English PEN

  • Arman PEN

  • PEN Gambia

  • PEN Perth

  • PEN Català

  • PEN Zambia

  • Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann

  • PEN Uganda

  • PEN Argentina

  • PEN Flanders

  • PEN Canada

  • PEN Nicaragua

  • San Miguel PEN

  • Cuban Writers in Exile Centre

  • PEN Philippines

  • Pen Guadalajara

  • PEN Perú

  • PEN Brazil

  • PEN Paraguay

  • PEN Zimbabwe

  • PEN Honduras

  • PEN Guatemala

  • PEN Bangladesh

  • PEN Uruguay

  • PEN Bolivia

  • PEN Armenia

  • PEN Nigeria

  • PEN Ecuador

  • PEN South Africa

  • PEN Liechtenstein

  • PEN Africaans

  • PEN Belarus

  • PEN Malawi

  • PEN Norway

  • PEN Sierra Leone

  • PEN Kenya

  • PEN Québec

  • PEN Malta

Myanmar Update: PEN member now serving 54-year prison sentence.

PEN member now serving 54-year prison sentence.

24 May 2023: PEN International is dismayed at the decision of Myanmar’s military junta to sentence writer, activist, and PEN Myanmar member, Wai Moe Naing to 20 years’ imprisonment for committing high treason. Already serving a 34-year prison sentence following several convictions in retaliation for his peaceful advocacy against the military coup of 1 February 2021, this latest unjust conviction follows rushed legal proceedings that violated fair trial norms.  PEN International continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those unjustly detained by the military junta for their peaceful expression in Myanmar, including Wai Moe Naing.

On 19 May 2023, Wai Moe Naing was convicted of high treason for his role as a protest leader and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment under Article 122 of Myanmar’s Penal Code, narrowly avoiding a potential death sentence. Already serving a sentence of 34 years’ imprisonment, this latest ruling results in a combined total of 54 years in prison.

‘From the military junta’s efforts to silence Wai Moe Naing, it is obvious that the regime fears his voice. When he was first assaulted and detained in April 2021, he was engaged in non-violent advocacy, holding peaceful rallies in order to explain how the military’s seizure of power violated Myanmar’s undemocratic 2008 constitution. It is a cruel injustice that Wai Moe Naing has been convicted of high treason by the same regime that has so brutally betrayed the people of Myanmar. We demand his immediate and unconditional release’, said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

A further trial on a remaining charge of murder remains. The charge is reported to relate to the killing of two police officers in the Monywa district, in central Myanmar but no evidence has emerged that links Wai Moe Naing to the crime. Wai Moe Naing’s friends and family have rejected the accusation of murder on the strongest possible terms.

As reported previously, two of Wai Moe Naing’s legal representatives have been arrested, with many others now unwilling to represent him out of fear of retaliation from the military junta, raising ongoing concerns over Wai Moe Naing’s ability to defend himself according to international fair trial norms.

PEN International considers that Wai Moe Naing’s long-term imprisonment represents a complete disregard of his right to a fair trial and is illustrative of the military junta’s willingness to use Myanmar’s legal system as a means to further its repression of dissenting voices.


Wai Moe Naing is a writer, activist, and member of PEN Myanmar. He began writing as a student, with his first short story being published in Teen Magazine at the age of 13. His writing has since been published in several literary outlets, including Khit Yanantthit Magazine and Pae Tin Tharn Journal.

Prior to the military coup in February 2021, Wai Moe Naing had already developed a reputation as a committed non-violent activist due to his long-standing involvement student unions and youth groups, which included his affiliation with the Peacock Generation, a satirical poetry troupe who had several of its members detained in 2019 for allegedly criticising the military during a performance.

In the immediate aftermath of the military coup, Wai Moe Naing rose to prominence as a leader of the anti-coup protest movement and was among those who popularised the idea of banging pots and pans as a non-violent act of resistance to the military junta’s rule.

Wai Moe Naing was arrested on 15 April 2021 by junta forces after they reportedly used an unmarked vehicle to ram Wai Moe Naing while he was driving on a moped as part of a protest rally in the Monywa district. When he tried to escape on foot, a group of armed men disembarked and attacked him and a female protestor before detaining them both.

On 12 August 2022, Wai Moe Naing was found guilty of multiple counts of incitement under section 505(A) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which has been routinely used by the military junta to target critics of the regime. Following his conviction, Wai Moe Naing was initially sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. According to reports, Wai Moe Naing did not appeal the court’s ruling, stating that the allegations were not committed by him, so there was nothing to appeal.

On 20 October 2022, Wai Moe Naing was sentenced to a further four years’ imprisonment on an additional count of incitement and for violating Article 25 of Natural Disaster Management Law, a charge that has been cynically used to clamp down on public rallies following the authorities’ classification of COVID-19 as a ‘natural disaster’.

On 5 April 2023, Wai Moe Naing was convicted of several charges, including rioting, robbery and incitement, and sentenced to a further 20 years’ imprisonment, resulting in a cumulative total of 34 years in prison.

For more information about PEN International’s work on Myanmar please see Impunity Reigns – Writers resist, PEN International’s 2022 Case List, which documents 115 cases of persecuted writers worldwide, including Wai Moe Naing.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Head of Asia/ Pacific Region at PEN International. Email: ross.holder@pen-international.org

Regressive changes to education policy undermine linguistic rights and exacerbate ethnic divisions

PEN International is concerned by the military junta’s recent amendments to Myanmar’s education system, which seek to promote the use of Burmese at the expense of other languages. In a country riven by conflict, these exclusionary amendments risk exacerbating ethnic divisions by infringing upon the linguistic rights of ethnic minority communities and increasing educational barriers for non-native Burmese speakers.

On 30 October 2022, amendments to Myanmar’s 2014 National Education Law (NEL) were published in the junta-controlled Myanmar Alin Daily, the country’s longest-running newspaper. The amendments, which came into force on 29 October, significantly weaken the linguistic rights of the country’s ethnic minority communities by promoting Burmese as the sole language of instruction in public education. In doing so, these discriminatory amendments will significantly disadvantage ethnic minority students by undermining their ability to learn using their mother tongue.

In response to the military junta’s amendments, Urtzi Urrutikoetxea, Chair of the PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee, said: ‘By undoing efforts to develop an inclusive education system that respects linguistic rights and reflects Myanmar’s rich multilingual heritage, the military junta will only further marginalise the country’s ethnic minority communities, deepening the divisions that have been a key source of the country’s entrenched ethnic conflicts.’

Myanmar is a country of rich linguistic diversity, which is reflected in the over 100 different languages and dialects spoken across the country. Burmese is the official language of Myanmar and is the primary language used by the Bamar, the country’s largest ethnic group. Burmese also serves as a lingua franca for many of the country’s ethnic minority communities.

During previous decades of repressive military rule (1962-2011), the promotion of a majoritarian national identity that elevated Burmese at the expense of other languages resulted in the marginalisation and suppression of the use of ethnic minority languages in public life. The military’s failure to embrace the country’s ethnic diversity has been a central grievance of non-Bamar ethnic communities, exacerbating the divisions that have fuelled the country’s protracted cycle of conflict.

Following the end of formal military rule in 2011, the enactment of the 2014 NEL, and its 2015 amendments, was a significant milestone in the development of a more inclusive national education system that better catered to the needs of Myanmar’s diverse ethnolinguistic groups. The 2014-2015 NEL included provisions which stated that ethnic minority languages could be used alongside Burmese as a classroom language (Article 43[B]) and that regional and state governments could implement the teaching of ethnic minority languages and literatures at the primary level and eventually higher grades (Article 44).

While the development of the NEL proved controversial, resulting in protests from student unions and a violent crackdown by the police, it was the first time that non-dominant ethnic language teaching was formally recognised by law in Myanmar, representing a positive step towards the integration of ethnic minority languages into the national education curriculum.

However, October’s announcement by the military junta undermines this burgeoning progress by imposing amendments that exclude ethnic minority languages from being used as a classroom language at the primary level (Article 43[B]), while also limiting the teaching of ethnic minority languages and literatures to the primary level (Article 44).

PEN International urges the military junta to annul these amendments and to ensure that Myanmar’s education system supports the linguistic rights of non-Burmese speakers and respects the country’s rich linguistic diversity.

We also continue our ongoing call for the release of all those unjustly detained for their peaceful expression. For more on our work on Myanmar, click here.

Stella Assange at the Press Club and Hyde Park Rally

Stella’s Speech at the National Press Club, Canberra on 22 May, 2023 at Press Club:


Stella’s speech at the Free Assange Mr Biden Rally at Sydney’s Hyde Park on 24 May, 2023:


Stella interview on ABC 7.30:



On Monday 22 May, Stella Assange will be in Canberra, Australia to address The National Press Club with Jenifer Robinson, Australian Human Rights Lawyer and Barrister. Follow this link for tickets: https://www.npc.org.au/speaker/2023/1180-stella-assange

Saffrine Duggan, wife of jailed Australian pilot Daniel Duggan who is also awaiting extradition to the US, will also be at the event. Also addressing the rally will be  lawyer Bernard Collaery, and ADF whistleblower David McBride. We hope you can join this event to support Julian Assange or pass the information, as well as of the Sydney rally (below) onto others.

While Biden is no longer coming to Australia (ignore that on the poster), the rally in Sydney is still going ahead.

She will then join the protest on Wednesday in Hyde Park at 10am in Sydney alongside Julian Assange’s father John and brother Gabriel Shipton, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, Stephen Kenny and David McBride.

IRAN: End the persecution of Mahvash Sabet

Iran: authorities must end the persecution of Mahvash Sabet and ensure access to adequate medical care pending her release


PEN International and the undersigned PEN Centres are outraged to learn that writer and poet Mahvash Sabet was brutally tortured during her interrogation in August 2022 at Evin prison, resulting in both her kneecaps being broken. PEN International and the undersigned PEN Centres are gravely concerned about Mahvash Sabet’s health and well-being and strongly condemn the persistent and deliberate medical negligence against writers and other prisoners of conscience in Iran.

We urge the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mahvash Sabet on medical furlough and demand that she receives immediate, appropriate, and adequate medical care pending her release. We further call for an independent, transparent, and prompt investigation into her torture. 

PEN International has recieved information from reliable sources that prominent Baha’i poet Mahvash Sabet has been suffering for months from broken kneecaps resulting from torture that she has been subjected to while in detention. The authorities have not provided her with adequate medical care and are subjecting her to deplorable detention conditions. PEN International has also learned that she had been repeatedly interrogated over the content of her unpublished book in which she details her previous prison experiences.

PEN International has previously raised concerns over Sabet’s health and the deliberate medical negligence by the Iranian authorities. We have recieved information that she has difficulties breathing following recurrent Covid-19 infections from which she has not fully recovered.

Further, Iranian authorities have also persecuted her family, forcibly evicting them from their property earlier this week. The Baha’i community are heavily persecuted by the authorities in Iran, with examples including the arrest of Baha’i activists and the seizing and demolishing their homes and properties. PEN International had previously highlighted the persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community and the arrest of Iranian activists Fariba Kamalabadi and Afif Naemi, members of the long-disbanded “Yaran-i-Iran” or “Friends of Iran”, who, along with Sabet, helped to administer Baha’i community’s affairs in Iran until 2008.


Arrested in July 2022, Mahvash Sabet was sentenced to ten years in prison in November 2022 following a grossly unfair trial. She faced trumped-up charges and has been denied access to legal counsel.

Sabet is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran; the second decade-long sentence she has been handed by the Iranian authorities in violation of her right to freedom of expression. Since her arrest, Sabet has reportedly been held in solitary confinement and denied contact with her family for prolonged periods.

Mahvash Sabet began her professional career as a teacher and worked as a principal at several schools. She also collaborated with the National Literacy Committee of Iran. Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Sabet was fired from her job and blocked from working in public education, like thousands of other Iranian Baha’i educators. She served for 15 years as director of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, which provides alternative higher education for Baha’i youth.

She began writing poetry in prison, and a collection of her prison poems was translated into English and published in 2013. Sabet is an honorary member of Austrian PEN and Danish PEN and was awarded English PEN’s 2017 International Writer of Courage. PEN International has campaigned for her release and featured her case in PEN’s 2014 Day of the Imprisoned Writer campaign.



For more details on Mahvash Sabet’s case, please visit our website (here)

PEN America’s Literary Gala May 18 to Honor Iranian Writer and Human Rights Defender Narges Mohammadi with PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award

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PEN America’s Literary Gala May 18 to Honor Iranian Writer and Human Rights Defender Narges Mohammadi with PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award

The NYC Gala will Honor Saturday Night Live Creator and Executive Producer Lorne Michaels and will be Hosted by SNL Star Colin Jost


(NEW YORK)— PEN America announced today that Iranian writer and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi will receive the 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award this Thursday at the organization’s annual literary gala.

Targeted by the Iranian government for more than 30 years for her writings and human rights activism, Mohammadi is currently jailed on false charges of “spreading anti-state propaganda” and defamation. Her husband, Taghi Rahmani, also a journalist and an activist who has himself been jailed for his work, will accept the award for her at the 2023 PEN American Literary Gala  at the American Museum of Natural History.

The gala is a momentous evening that gathers acclaimed writers and honors visionaries in literature, the arts, journalism, publishing, film, and other fields—alongside individuals who have demonstrated remarkable courage by standing up for free expression in the face of adversity. The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write award is given annually to an international writer of conscience, imprisoned to silence them.

For two decades, Mohammadi has fiercely defended women, political prisoners, and ethnic minorities working with Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi’s Defenders of Human Rights Center, where she is vice president. She was first targeted by Iranian authorities as a college student when she wrote about women’s rights for her student newspaper and was arrested at a political meeting.

Who is Narges Mohammadi?

At age 51, having been jailed for most of the last decade, Mohammadi sustains the will to defy Iran’s persistent and unjust effort to silence her, despite being tortured, denied the medicine she needs, held for long periods in solitary confinement, and separated for years from her husband and twin children, who live in exile. Through letters, interviews, books, and social media she has kept the spotlight on human rights and alerted the world to prison abuses. In 2022, she published White Torture, a book that exposes the shocking details of physical and psychological abuse in Iranian prisons through the testimonies of 14 women.

She was most recently detained in November 2021, and is serving several sentences related to defamation and anti-state propaganda charges totaling more than 10 years and 70 lashes. Authorities have threatened to impose additional trumped-up charges in recent weeks.

PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel said: “Narges Mohammadi inspires awe across the world for her unflinching courage and resistance to the Iranian government’s determined campaign to silence her. The sacrifices that she and her family have made are heartbreaking.  She is a beacon for free expression in one of the most harsh places in the world for writers, journalists, and artists. We are proud to honor this fearless truthteller whose resistance has made her a symbol of defiance against repression, especially to young Iranian women who rose up against a brutal crackdown on dissent over the last year. Their willingness to defy the authorities by the thousands shows that Mohammadi’s example is being passed from one generation to the next. Her defense of free expression also stands as a badge of honor to countless writers and journalists worldwide who also refuse to stay silent in their own countries and are jailed as a result.”

Mohammadi’s case has been among PEN America’s top advocacy priorities since 2012, and PEN America has issued numerous statements over the years calling for her immediate release and denouncing the injustice of her convictions and imprisonments.

The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award is a powerful tool in PEN America’s efforts to end the persecution of writers and defend free expression; this year, more than 311 writers worldwide are jailed and 800 more are persecuted by oppressive government in 80 countries, according to PEN America’s annual Freedom to Write Index.

The award is a springboard for PEN’s advocacy for the writers it honors. Of the 52 jailed writers who have received the award since 1987, 46 have been released due in part to the awareness and pressure the award generates.

Last year, PEN America honored  Vladyslav Yesypenko, a Ukrainian journalist still imprisoned in a Russian labor camp, who was targeted by a methodical campaign to silence and crush a free press in Crimea. He was tortured and forced to confess to baseless, politically motivated charges of espionage and weapons manufacturing.

As previously announced, Saturday Night Live Weekend Update co-anchor and show writer Colin Jost will host the gala, which will also honor SNL creator, writer and executive producer Lorne Michaels who will receive the PEN/Audible Literary Service Award.

The gala is a highlight of the New York City literary and social calendar and again this year, PEN America will welcome 750 guests, including numerous human rights defenders, humanitarians and luminaries, whose generosity funds PEN America’s literary and advocacy programs.

Visit www.pen.org/gala for more information.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org. 201-247-5057

PEN International Video Poem Marathon 2023 in Indigenous and Minoritized Languages


The 3rd edition of the Video Poem Marathon 2023 in Indigenous and Minoritized Languages has been a huge success. We have published 70 videos between February 21 and March 21, 2023.  These are just some of the figures of this 3rd edition:


– 70 languages, 2/3 of them participating for the first time at the Video Poem Marathon.

– 38 female poets, 32 male poets

– 22 poems from Africa, 14 from Asia, 14 from Europe, 2 from Oceania, 18 from the Americas.

– 25 PEN Centres, nine of them participating for the first time, also good literary friends in Indigenous associations like Ituîka and Colectivo Aj’tzib’

– Poems submitted for the first time from Greenland, Paraguay, Sierra Leone, Australia, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Namibia, USA, Uganda, Faroe Islands, Ghana, Guinea Bissau and Sri Lanka.


The participation from Africa has been simply extraordinary, showing the importance of all these languages even when the former colonial languages continue to be official in their countries. Remarkable as well the number of Maya poets from Guatemala, the brave poets writing in harsh conditions in Hazaragi, Crimean Tatar, Kurdish or Circassian, and the courageous poets from Myanmar, Ukraine or Belarus.


After 3 years, we have gathered poems in more than 110 languages. Indigenous languages, minoritized languages, small languages… more than 110 tongues that are too often neglected. That is why we want to MAKE SILENCED LANGUAGES VISIBLE.


The  PEN-TLRC YouTube channels had 55 people subscribed in early February. Now we have almost 150 subscribers. Important increase in Twitter, too. The Facebook TLRC Group has 375 members. You are more than welcome to join any of these channels, of course.


More importantly, every poet is really happy about their participation in the Marathon, and so are everyone else involved from their linguistic community.


Altogether there have been 3,700 views since we published the first videos on February 21.  We know though, that among so many languages, poets and fantastic videos, some of them do not always get the attention they deserve. Therefore, we want to stress that, even if the Marathon 2023 is finished, the video-poems are there, online, for everyone to watch, enjoy, share and even use them in their own languages. We encourage you to stop for a moment in our YouTube channel, to start watching a couple of poems, from the continent and language you prefer. We are convinced you will love them, and we would appreciate if you could spread the word in your own PEN Centre and literary and cultural colleagues, if you could share the videos you like most by phone and, why not, if you really love some of these voices, we are sure they will love to know that their poem has been translated into your own language.


Thank you, and best regards,


Urtzi Urrutikoetxea

Chair of the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee of PEN International

World Press Freedom Day: Publishing Is Not A Crime

World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2023
Journalism is not a crime
Journalists are the eyes and ears of society. With their work, they meet the need for democratic liberties, a need that can never be erased. They must be able to speak and write about matters of public interest without fear of interference, arrest or other forms of reprisal or persecution. Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International Writers in Prison Committee
Julian Assange
The case of Australian publisher and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has become emblematic of the campaign for press freedom, particularly where journalists and publishers hold dear their right to reveal ‘inconvenient truths’ in the public interest. The threat to press freedom if the US prosecute the charges of espionage against Assange is undeniable.
On April 11 this year Julian Assange awoke to his fourth year of incarceration in the hellhole of  His Majesty’s Belmarsh Prison. Let’s not forget that behind the prison walls is a man whose ‘crime’ was to expose the wrongdoings of state power.  After serving a 50 weeks sentence for violating his bail terms Mr Assange has been held without charge, awaiting the outcome of his final appeal against extradition to the United States to face espionage charges.
PEN International has repeatedly called for the US to drop the charges against Julian Assange and withdraw the extradition request, and for the UK to stop the extradition and immediately release him from prison.
Prime Minister Albanesese put out a call that “Enough is enough”, however we have not seen any encouraging results. Assange supporters continue to call for urgent and decisive political intervention at the top level.
Julian Assange is an honorary member of PEN Melbourne.
Do you want to campaign for Julian Assange? Go to:

Jimmy Lai

Journalists are the eyes and ears of society. With their work, they meet the need for democratic liberties, a need that can never be erased. They must be able to speak and write about matters of public interest without fear of interference, arrest or other forms of reprisal or persecution. Jimmy Lai is no exception to this. We stand by his side today and every day. Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Imprisoned Writers Committee


Take action today to free Jimmy Lai


Jimmy Lai is a veteran human rights activist, writer, and owner of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, which was once regarded as Hong Kong’s most prolific pro-democracy news outlet before it was forced to close by the authorities on 24 June 2021. Lai has been continuously imprisoned since December 2020 following his initial detention in August 2020 on multiple charges for his journalism and activism. He is currently facing a potential life sentence. PEN International calls on the Hong Kong authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Jimmy Lai, and to drop all charges against him. We also call on the authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations and uphold the right to freedom of expression for all.


Please take a few moments to write a message of solidarity and support to Jimmy Lai. Ask your members and supporter to do the same. Share our campaign posts on your social media, and encourage others to write messages of support to Jimmy Lai. Please use the hashtags #FreeJimmyLai #JimmyLai #WorldPressFreedomDay when posting. Please note: this solidarity action is in collaboration with English PEN’s PENWrites campaign.

PEN Melbourne Writers for Peace Committee: Can Arts Stop a Bullet?

Can Arts Stop a Bullet?


by Constantine Pakavakis


PEN Melbourne’s WfPC is collaborating with the peace activist movement and the campaign to free Julian Assange.


At a recent “Call for Peace, Truth Not War” rally, colourful signs, banners and the thumping beat of Richie Haven’s Freedom on the stepped forecourt of Melbourne’s State Library reminded me of how once we stopped a war. Music and art are powerful, they make us feel.

In Can Art Stop a Bullet? by Street and Cantwell, artist William Kelly articulates the thoughts of some of the world’s most influential thinkers and artists about how art can contribute to humanity’s desire for peace.


“The military has their tanks, bombs, battleships, and drones. They have their honour rolls of war, their medals, their ‘heroes’. They have their statues, monuments, and triumphal arches – dedicated to conflict – and they have their weapons. I have a pencil.”

  • William Kelly


As the new AUKUS military alliance of the UK, US and Australia prepares for a possible war with China, I believe the scope of Writers for Peace must be broad enough to include every form of writing and art that speaks up for our humanity.

In Melbourne, the home of Julian Assange, a recent collaboration involved a joint venture with Melbourne City Council. They provided us with a site for the exhibition of Anything To Say?, a bronze life size sculpture by artist Davide Dormino of Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, each standing on a chair, with a fourth ‘Empty Chair’ for the public to ‘have a say’. At the public event, the father of Julian Assange, John Shipton, David McBride, a whistleblower who exposed Australian war crimes in Afghanistan, Councillor Dr. Olivia Ball, and Dean Yates, the former Reuters chief in Iraq at the time of the Collateral Murders, joined PEN Melbourne’s Chris McKenzie and Dr Jo Scicluna in forcefully calling for Julian’s release and the fundamental right of freedom of expression.

Peace education and children’s literature is another area of interest for our WfPC. We must counter the glorification of killing. In Homer’s Iliad, the sirens that lure sailors to their death are not seducing them with heavenly enchantments of peace and tranquility, no, their irresistable lures sing of the glory of war. Militarism is deeply set in a culture of anthems, military songs and music. Movies, books and art idolize militaristic bravery, heroism, and the willingness to kill.

As co-author of an anti-war novel Earthrunner and the War of Water, I have been giving talks in schools about the futility of war and urging students to claim their agency for a peaceful future. In Australia, conscription for a war with China has already been flagged in the media; taxes being used for exorbitantly priced nuclear submarines are depriving urgently needed affordable housing, medical care, and education; and the reality of becoming a nuclear target because of US bases in Australia, must all be known.


Combating climate disaster is an essential part of this work too. PEN Melbourne Writers for Peace has been working within the Independent Peaceful Australia Network to organise peace rallies and to include environmental organisations.  The urgency to reverse climate warming was highlighted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres with a final warning for “climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.” Yet global military conflicts are a real and present danger to climate action. The hidden carbon footprint of the world’s militaries was estimated at 6%, excluding emissions caused by war and the reconstruction required afterwards.


For teachers seeking to incorporate peace into their programs, the Peace Literacy Institute https://www.peaceliteracy.org/ offers free curriculum resources and some online training programs which are worth investigating.


John Lennon’s words “Imagine all the people, livin’ life in peace” continue to challenge us all as writers.