International PEN Melbourne Centre




International PEN Melbourne Centre condemns the Myanmar Military Regime’s deadly use of force against its own citizens including poets and journalists since the coup of 1 February 2021. The Military junta has ramped up surveillance of opponents and arrests, including of journalists, writers, and creative artists; and increased violence against protesters. The junta has brought in legal measures and emergency powers to silence and intimidate and to justify its human rights abuses.

Intentional and ongoing internet shutdowns have severely diminished journalists’ ability to do their jobs on the ground.

“When a government turns off the internet, it means that it knows the truth is its enemy.”

We call for the immediate release of all detained journalists.  The junta must cease these violent attacks on press freedom, the silencing of its opponents and the brutal murders of citizens. PEN urges the junta to reinstate the elected government and to respect the fundamental rights of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and rightful access to information.

On 6 April Myanmar’s most famous satirist and an outspoken critic of the military regime, Maung Thura (known publicly as Zarganar) was reportedly arrested at his home and taken to an undisclosed location by junta forces.


PEN condemns his arrest and the targeting of media figures by the military junta and we continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those arrested following the military coup.

Statement from PEN Myanmar: 17th March, 2021

Since the Myanmar military seized power from the elected government on 1 February, millions of people across the nation have protested against this illegitimate regime. The demonstrations have brought the young and old out onto the streets. The creativity of their protests has garnered worldwide attention.

Actors, directors, musicians, artists, poets and writers have all lent their talents to strengthen the movement that we call Myanmar‘s Spring Revolution. We have voiced out and performed online and on the street. Myanmar people have called for respect for our votes, release of our leaders, and an end to military dictatorship.

For the last two or three weeks, the military – which refuses to negotiate a solution, in defiance of the wishes of the international community, including the UN Security Council – has clamped down violently on peaceful demonstrators, including shooting them in the head with live rounds. Democratic leaders have been taken away, and their tortured bodies returned to their families. Armed soldiers wander the streets of our cities at night, shooting at random, terrorizing the residents. None of us is safe.

Myanmar’s artistic community has been at the vanguard of these protests: some have been killed and many others arrested. PEN Melbourne is not printing names as there is fear of retribution in Myanmar.

PEN Myanmar has said:

“We know that the situation must ultimately be solved by the people of Myanmar. But we call on the international community to do what they can to support us in our fight for democracy. As creative professionals from Myanmar, we call on our creative brothers and sisters across the world, and from all artistic communities, to stand up and show solidarity with us in our struggle and support those in need!”

Do you want to take Action for Myanmar?

PEN Myanmar and PEN Melbourne suggest that you:

  1. Write to the Australian Government and;


  • Urge the Australian government to continue its initial condemnation of the violent attacks on civilians in Myanmar
  • Request the Australian government not to recognise the military regime known as State Administrative Council but to recognise the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, Assembly of the Union (CRPH) as the only leading authority of people of Myanmar.


Write your letter of concern to the Minister for Foreign Affairs

Senator the Hon Marise Payne



Parliament Office

PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Electorate Office

Postal address

PO Box 1420
Parramatta, NSW, 2150


  1. Spread the news and information widely about what’s going on in Myanmar to your networks and the general public.

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PEN Melbourne International Women’s Day, 2021 Judith Rodriguez IWD Presentation Claire G. Coleman

Photo credit: Di Cousens

I would like to acknowledge that we are gathering tonight on the stolen unceded land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and future and all Indigenous people gathered here tonight.  This land was taken by force, in a violent war. Every inch of Australia is unceded Aboriginal land.


These are not the sort of times I thought I would be living through in my 40s, with democracy on the decline around the world, with the United States of America, who have always presented themselves as the world’s paragon of democracy and freedom dropping downwards in almost every metric or democratic freedom. The election of a reality TV star as President of the United States over 4 years ago was a symptom of a deeper malaise, not the cause of the problems.


People are scared and scared people vote for strong-man leaders, it might be that democracy is not the default state of the world but, rather, something we need to work to maintain.


Women’s rights seem to be going backwards, the religious right, so called men’s rights activists and men who identify as “Incels” (involuntary celibates), men who can’t get sex and blame women for their situation, are fighting to remove the equal rights we have fought for. Many far-right men in what some people call the “manosphere” believe that women’s rights have gone too far, that women should not be able to choose our sexual partners, have careers, remain unmarried or childless, they don’t believe we should be allowed to vote.  These men want women’s rights reversed, want the patriarchy to regain power.


They have ignored what Margaret Attwood said, “The Handmaid’s Tale is not an instruction manual”.


Worse even that that, many of these men believe that there is no patriarchy, that women are really in control despite all the overwhelming evidence.


I didn’t want to talk about rape but frankly in these times it seems appropriate and necessary.


In Australia we have a party in power who seem keen to cover up alleged rape by staffers and ministers, who have shown nothing but contempt and hate for victims of rape.  Our prime minister had to be told by his wife, Jen, to “think of their daughters” when considering rape victims. Firstly, he should not have needed to have been reminded of his daughters, secondly a man should not need daughters to know that rape is bad; you already know that – I guess our prime minister doesn’t.


Rape has always been a weapon of war, a tool of settler colonialism, in the early days of colonisation there is always a lack of women, the men seek indigenous women for sex, making mixed race children. We have to assume that men who don’t see the local women as human would not always ask for consent.  This has not changed, women are seen as second-class citizens, the majority of rapes don’t get reported, even when rapes are reported the majority of rapists get away with the crime.


Imagine how bad it was during colonisation, if men get away with rape now how can we even imagine how many men would have gotten away with rape in the black war times.  I think it’s safe to assume that most of the mixed-race children were the after effect of rape.  I am not however, as far as I know every generation back to the dawn of colonisation in my family were in consensual relationships.


Then we get to greater complexities, what really is consent when the power imbalance is so extreme?


Aboriginal women who married white men had protection, sometimes the women married to white men were the only Aboriginal women who did not die in the blak war, they survived the apocalyptic spasm of colonisation.  Being married to white men was protective but it’s impossible to determine whether or not they married white men for that reason.  It’s possible that an Aboriginal girl offered protection would do anything to keep that protection, even marry a man she has no feelings for but fear of him; and perhaps her fear of the other white men being far greater.  It’s hard to imagine this being actually a choice, it was the colonial apocalypse, a long ongoing war.


This could be my family, some of the earliest recorded marriages in the south coast of Western Australia were the women in my family, whose husbands kept them safe.


They were aware of rape, in the 1880s a girl of my Country was raped by a whitefella, her family killed that whitefella and nearly all our family were killed in reprisals.


Australia is not the country it thinks it is, not the country you might think it is.


Australia is not a happy-go-lucky, lucky country, equal and friendly and gregarious. Australia is racist and sexist and homophobic; the way the country gets away with this is by hiding what it is in plain sight.  The world, and most of Australia, believes the country’s propaganda, believes the story not the truth; some of us can see it but those of us are abused for speaking the truth.


Australia falls short of jailing people for being critical of the government but it is my belief we are not far from there. There are people in government who seem hell-bent on totalitarianism, on fascism or a theocracy.


I have to admit Australia has some things right, it’s not a particularly homophobic nation, this is perhaps one of the nations where lesbian, gay, bi and trans rights have progressed the furthest.


Except that the “gay panic defence”, converting murder to manslaughter if a straight man is hit on by a man, was only abolished in South Australia in November 2020.


Until then a straight man who thought a gay man was attracted to him could say that made him scared and, if he killed the gay man, it was a reaction to fear, a manslaughter, not cold-blooded murder.  As has been often pointed out women who fear they are in danger from men are unlikely to respond with violence and if we did we would not be able to use “I thought he was attracted to me” as a defence.


In fact, women have little right to safety from sexual assault, for we don’t have rights if those rights are only theoretical. It’s estimated that as many as one in 6 women are victims of sexual assault.  Most rapes go unreported, most reported rapes do not result in prosecution of the rapist.  Women will be safe from rape once a report of rape to the police can be made with a reasonable expectation of prosecution, when reporting a rape has no consequences for the victims of rape.


Things are even worse for trans women and women of colour. If Aboriginal women come to the attention of police even as victims of crime we tend to be punished for it.  Current statistics suggest that rather than the one in six cis women who are sexually assaulted, with trans women it’s more like one in two.


As things stand right now women are constantly accused of making false accusations of rape when, frankly, in rape reports, the loss of reputation and damage to status is worst for the accuser than it is for the accused.  Few women who are raped report it because of the consequences, such as slut shaming, and yet the myth that women lie about rape persists.


This is part of the silencing of women, particularly rape victims. It has always been the aim of settler colonialism, hegemonic systems and patriarchy, which are frankly the same thing.  That too they want to silence, the knowledge that the patriarchy and settler colonialism are hand in hand.  This is why we need to keep intersectionality in mind, the oppressive systems walk with their fingers entwined, when someone experiences more than one vector of oppression they tend to compound. It’s hard to choose which oppression to fight.


Intersectionality matters because erasure of voices is hierarchical, white, cis, straight male abled voices are the loudest, then white cis straight abled women, the entitled voice called out as “Karens”, then down the ladder, white cis gay men, white cis gay women, etc. then black, straight men, etc etc.


At the bottom of this theoretical ladder are Indigenous, trans, gay or queer disabled women. From that far down the ladder it’s pretty much impossible to even see the top.  Affirmative action, what prejudiced people call “positive discrimination’ is needed to give intersectionally disadvantaged people a chance in this society.  When affirmative action is attempted we are accused of “reverse racism” or some such thing, but reverse racism is itself a racist term and everybody using it is racist.


If you think about it anything that can be reversed has a correct direction, therefore the term “reverse racism” implies that racism has a correct direction.  That direction is, of course, from white people towards people of colour. Racism, to someone invoking the concept of reverse racism, is something that should be correctly applied by them to others.


Now, in the last few days we have been faced with the disclosure of the racism of some members of the British Royal family to Meghan Markel. If you missed it somehow an unidentified royal when told by prince Harry that Meghan was pregnant apparently mused aloud wondering how dark the child will be.


Should we have been shocked that the royal family of an empire that brought us racist colonialism are racists? Of course not. It’s not well known, these days, that the entire concept of “race” as we know it was invented to more easily distinguish the slave classes from the slave owners.  Racism did not always exist, it is nothing more or less than a tool of settler colonialism


It’s time to bring an end to racism, to bring an end to sexism, to what some people call misogynoir, the unique hate society holds for blak and Indigenous women; that potently energetic hate that has earned its own portmaneau.  Intersectionally disadvantaged women can’t do it alone but we don’t want everybody else fighting for us, Blak women want you to stand with us shoulder to shoulder.  It’s time for everybody to understand that the minorities in power need us divided, they are out-numbered.



Worldwide PEN International Annual Women Writers Committee Meeting

“Empowering women’s voices: Praise, solidarity and longing”,

which will be held by Zoom on March 20 and 21, 2021.


All PIWWC people are invited to take part. We hope that a virtual conference will permit more attendance than ever as we had a last year. There are many events scheduled over the two days of the conference and we will be able to see one another, and everyone will have a chance to speak as well.


General information about the meeting:

WWC Annual Meeting Online

Empowering women’s voices: Praise, solidarity and longing

20 and 21 March 2021

PEN International Women Writers Committee is organising an online meeting on women writers’ response to the anxiety that crept into our lives during and after the pandemic. We would like to put praise and solidarity, universal love, and peace into the spotlight of our meeting. Seeing democracies crumbling and human rights stripped away from us, we can show that PEN is mightier than a sword.

In two sessions, we will focus on exchange of views and ideas on the way forward, with a focus on collaborative approaches.


Meeting Agenda

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Day I

13:30 GMT (London time) – Opening the meeting (practice room and free chat)

14:00 – Empty Chair #1 Regina Martínez Pérez (Mexico)

14:05 – Opening keynote speech by Ma Thida (PEN Myanmar)

14:25 – WWC Chair report + Q&A

14:40 – PEN VIDA count: presentation of the project

15:00 – Center updates (3 mins per Center) with comfort break

17:00 – Closing the meeting


Sunday, March 21, 2021

Day II

13:30 – Opening the meeting (practice room and free chat)

14:00 – Empty Chair #2 Myint Myint Zin (Myanmar)

14:05 – WWC in Centenary Archive:

“The WWC Committee’s secret pages in the PEN Digital Exhibition” by Ginevra Avalle

WWC memories by Lucina Kathmann



Women writers in exile live a double life. One part of their mind is in their homeland, another in the land where they are building a new existence. How is it to live a double life? How can writers in exile help to advocate for the rights in their homelands? Can literature overcome the distance? We will hear about their experience of life in exile from three amazing writers.

Panellists: Maria Saba (PEN Canada-Humber College Writers-in-Exile), Choman Hardi (Kurdish PEN), and Stella Nyanzi (PEN Uganda)

Moderated by Tanja Tuma (PEN Slovene)

Live on Facebook:

15:25 – Empty Chair #3. Volha Kalackaja (Belarus)



The pandemic has shaken the roots of our democracies and annihilated societies that were built over decades. Freedom of speech and human rights are threatened more than ever all over the world. As a rule, writers particularly women are the first targets of the autocratic regimes. What are the methods of the autocrats trying to silence women’s literary voices? Moreover, what are women writers’ ways to persevere and fight back?

Panellists: Nadezhda Azhgikhina (PEN Moscow) and Dr Ma Thida (Myanmar PEN)

Moderated by Zoe Rodriguez (PEN Sidney)

Live on Facebook:

16:30 – POETRY SESSION Free the Word: Empowering Women’s Voices. Poems of Celebration, Solidarity & Longing

Empty Chair #4. Gulmira Imin (Uyghur)

Every Silence Broken Buys Another Their Voice!

OPEN Link:

Live on Facebook:


Practical information

The sessions will be held online as a closed, invitation-only meeting. Further details and technical information will be communicated to confirmed participants closer to the meeting.

The sessions will be recorded by the Secretariat for reporting purposes only and will not be broadcast or published later. The public portion (public events and literary reading) will be streamed on YouTube and Facebook and recordings can be used for promotional purposes.

The consultation is organised under the Chatham House Rule, and participants are not allowed to record.


The sessions will be held in English only. Unfortunately, no interpretation can be provided.

We apologise for this inconvenience.


Link for the meeting

Don’t worry, we will resend you the invitation link 24 hours before the event.

Registration is closed.


2021 International Women’s Day Event, with Claire G Coleman

PEN Melbourne, IWD Judith Rodriguez Presentation.

About this Event

Claire G. Coleman is a Wirlomin-Noongar woman who writes fiction, poetry and essays. Her debut novel Terra Nullius, won a Black&Write! Fellowship and a Norma K Hemming Award, and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and an Aurealis Award. The Old Lie is Claire’s second novel and this year her first non-fiction book, Lies, Damned Lies will be out in September 2021.

Book your tickets at this link:

Date and Time

Wed., 10 March 2021

6:30 pm – 9:00 pm AEDT

Add to Calendar


Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre

251 Faraday Street

Carlton, VIC 3053

View Map

Refund Policy

Contact the organiser to request a refund.

Eventbrite’s fee is nonrefundable.

ACTION: Support for a Voice to Parliament to be Enshrined in the Constitution

International PEN Melbourne Centre

ULURU Statement from the Heart:


Support for a Voice to Parliament to be Enshrined in the Constitution

The International PEN Melbourne Centre works on the lands of the the Boon Wurrung and Woi Wurrung peoples of the Kulin Nation and we recognise that the sovereignty of these lands has never been ceded.

PEN Melbourne acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have suffered historic and ongoing silencing since the colonisation of Australia beginning in 1788.  The continuing exclusion of the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from the government and legislative bodies of the Australian nation does incalculable harm in disadvantaging First Nations peoples in matters of education, justice, employment, welfare, and social and political participation. This exclusion deprives public discussion and parliamentary debate of an essential and fundamental element – the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on laws that will affect them and that will enrich the lives of all Australians.

The Australian constitution, since its inception, has served to benefit white Australians at the expense of the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Enshrining the Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution will contribute to a just recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and progress the struggle for sovereignty and self-determination.

READ the Uluru Statement from the Heart



Make a submission to the Indigenous Voice co-design process


The closing date is 30 April 2021


Upload your submission at:


For assistance with creating your submission go to:


We encourage anyone with a love of writing and literature to join PEN Melbourne. We are an entirely voluntary and not-for-profit organisation and our members sustain and bring vitality to our work.

TURKEY: ACTION Write to Selahattin Demirtaş

International PEN Melbourne Centre



WRITE to Selahattin Demirtaş, a writer in prison


Throughout the year PEN Melbourne members and friends write to persecuted writers in prison around the world.

We send our best wishes, and our hopes that they are staying well and in good spirits.

We do this in the spirit of solidarity and to let them know that they are not alone and not forgotten.

We try by this means to allow a light into their lives in prison.

The letters are not political, but a gesture of friendship and a way of connecting across the cultural divides.


Send a letter to show solidarity with prominent Kurdish politician and writer Selahattin Demirtaş.

Writer and opposition politician Selahattin Demirtaş turned 48 on Saturday 10 April – the fifth birthday he has spent behind bars and away from his loved ones.

Demirtaş has been held in pre-trial detention for over four years, on dubious terrorism charges. The European Court of Human Rights twice ruled for his release, to no avail.

It is time that Turkey abides by its obligations under international law and release Demirtaş once and for all.


Backround information:

Former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş was arrested on 4 November 2016 on dubious terrorism charges. The Turkish authorities have so far failed to implement a landmark ruling of the European Court of Human Rights issued in November 2018, which found his detention to be politically motivated and ordered his immediate release – a call reiterated by the Court’s Grand Chamber in December 2020.

PEN International calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Please send messages of solidarity to:

Mr Selahattin Demirtaş

Edirne F Tipi CİK B1-38




We encourage anyone with a love of writing and literature to join PEN Melbourne. We are an entirely voluntary and not-for-profit organisation and our members sustain and bring vitality to our work.

International PEN Melbourne Centre CHINA ACTION – YANG Hengjun

International PEN Melbourne Centre

Defending persecuted writers, freedom of expression and promoting cultural understanding through literature



YANG Hengjun

Yang Hengjun is an Australian novelist, blogger and political commentator who is committed to the advancement of human rights and political reform in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

A keen commentator on Chinese politics and the virtues of democratic pluralism, Yang’s writing has been regularly featured in The Diplomat and his blog posts garnered a significant following on Chinese social media, earning himself the nickname of ‘Democracy Peddler’. As a novelist, he has authored a fictional spy trilogy known as the Fatal Series.

Yang was abducted by the security services when visiting the PRC with his family in January 2019, and on 7 October 2020 he was formally charged with espionage. If convicted, Yang faces a potential sentence ranging from three years’ imprisonment to the death penalty.

PEN International considers Yang Hengjun’s detention to be a clear breach of his right to freedom of expression and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Take Action by:

  1. Sending an appeal to the Chinese authorities
  2. Telling others: share Yang’s case and his work via Twitter (see below)

In your letter request that the authorities:

  • Release Yang Hengjun immediately and unconditionally.
  • Allow Yang Hengjun’s family to leave the PRC without any restrictions.
  • Provide Yang Hengjun with unrestricted access to legal representatives of his choosing and to representatives of the Australian government.
  • End all policies that contravene the PRC government’s international human rights obligations.

Write to:

President Xi Jinping

General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President of the People’s Republic of China.

Address: General Secretary Office, Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Zhongnanhai Ximen, Fuyou Street, Xicheng District, Beijing 100017

People’s Republic of China


Ambassador CHENG Jingye

Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Commonwealth of Australia

Address: 15 Coronation Drive, Yarralumla, ACT 2600, Australia.



Ambassador ZHANG Jun

Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations.

Address: 350 East 35th Street, New York, NY 10016, USA.



Tell others: share Yang Hengjun’s case and his work on Twitter:

#YangHengjun’s detention is a breach of his right to freedom of expression. I call for his immediate and unconditional release.


We encourage anyone with a love of writing and literature to join PEN Melbourne. We are an entirely voluntary and not-for-profit organisation and our members sustain and bring vitality to our work.

World Poetry Day, PEN Campaign for 4 Poets: Maryja Martysievič, Katherine Bisquet,  Varavara Rao, Innocent Bahati

On this year’s World Poetry Day (March 21), PEN International highlights the case of four poets who risks their life, daily, through their work: Maryja Martysievič (Belarus), Katherine Bisquet (Cuba), Varavara Rao (India) and Innocent Bahati (Rwanda). PEN International calls on its members to take action so that governments fulfil their duty to guarantee freedom of expression.


Please find in attachment materials produced for this international day and campaign (action page, a piece by Jennifer Clement, social media messages for Sunday 21 and accompanying visuals for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). Please do support this campaign and ask your members to take action on behalf of our poets, as follows.


Maryja Martysievič-Monday 22

Katherine Bisquet – Tuesday 23
Varavara Rao- Wednesday 24
Innocent Bahati-Thursday 25


Please note that attached materials are EMBARGOED until 00:01 GMT on 21 March 2021 and should not be published before then.

Links to the action page can be found here (these will be live on Sunday morning UK time)



(EMBARGOED until 00:01 GMT on 21 March 2021).

World Poetry Day 2021

“We know, for poets who are incarcerated, the sun is cold and there are months between months, days between days and hours between hours. Even in the months, days, and hours, which are not on the calendar, we are working for their freedom of expression and for their freedom. Everyday members of PEN think of these poets and their suffering”.  Jennifer Clement, PEN International President.

March 21: Adopted in 1999 during the UNESCO’s 30th General Conference, World Poetry Day,  is an opportunity to celebrate cultural and linguistic diversity through poetic expression, as well as an opportunity to honour poets, revive oral traditions of poetry recitals, promote the convergence between poetry and other forms of arts, and raise the visibility of poetry in the media.

While poetry has the power to bring people together across continents, many poets worldwide face threats, intimidation and violence for simply speaking up, for using their voice in a way that makes governments feel uncomfortable. On this year’s World Poetry Day, PEN International highlights the case of four poets who risks their life, daily, through their work: Maryja Martysievič (Belarus), Katherine Bisquet (Cuba), Varavara Rao (India) and Innocent Bahati (Rwanda). PEN International calls on its members to take action so that governments fulfil their duty to guarantee freedom of expression.


Maryja Martysievič, © Ivan Besser


Maryja Martysievič


Maryja Martysievič is a Belarusian poet, writer, and literary translator, who for years has been facing repression for speaking out. She is amongst the many cultural figures in Belarus who have publicly expressed their dissent following the widely disputed presidential election of August 2020, which saw tens of thousands of people taking to the streets in peaceful protests. Since then, the Belarusian authorities have unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on human rights. Many writers and artists have been targeted, suffering arrests, beatings, destruction of instruments, and loss of jobs. As a member of the cultural resistance movement, Martysievič uses her creativity to resist oppression, by writing poetry and holding public readings and performances. PEN International calls on the Belarusian authorities to immediately end attacks against writers, artists, and cultural workers in retaliation for their attempts to raise their concerns and combat injustice.


Take action

Support Belarusian poets by organising poetry readings and celebrating their work on your social media channels. A video of Maryja Martysievič performing alongside fellow writers is available here.

Katherine Bisquet, © Héctor Trujillo

Katherine Bisquet


Katherine Bisquet is one of the most prominent young Cuban writers, as well as a poet, editor and activist. She writes for El Estornudo, among other media outlets, and has recently won the Antonia Eiriz 2021 scholarship, awarded by the Instituto Internacional de Artivismo Hannna Arendt. Bisquet was harassed, detained and placed house arrest for her ideas. In November 2020, alongside other artists and activists, she gathered at the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement (MSI) to protest the arbitrary detention of musician Denís Solís. The MSI is a group of Cuban artists that has fought for freedom of expression and artistic freedom since 2018, when the Cuban government introduced Decree 349 which penalizes artists who work without approval by the Ministry of Culture. Bisquet is the author of books such as Something Here is Out-of-Order and Depleted Uranium.


Take action

Support Cuban writers, journalists and artists asking authorities to stop harassment against them and San Isidro Movement, and to repeal the Decree 349, sending letters of concern to the Cuban embassies.


Varavara Rao, image courtesy of Wikipedia (Creative Commons License)

Varavara Rao
Varavara Rao is a celebrated writer, poet, and Marxist activist who has been detained without trial in India since 2018. An important figure in Telugu literature, Rao is a founder of the Virasam – the Revolutionary Writers Association. Rao was among five activists who were arrested in August 2018 for their alleged role in inciting violent unrest. He has completely rejected all charges, with many viewing his detention as being politically motivated and part of a wider crackdown on activists across India. Despite falling gravely ill with COVID-19 and other health complications while detained in abhorrent conditions, Indian authorities have repeatedly denied his requests for medical bail throughout 2020. On 22 January 2021, the Bombay High Court finally granted Rao six months’ medical bail. While PEN International welcomes the court’s ruling, we remain deeply concerned over the strict conditions imposed on Rao’s temporary release, which includes prohibiting him from speaking with media and restricting his location to Mumbai despite his home being in Telangana, located over 750 kilometres away.

Take action
Ask the Indian authorities to nullify the punitive conditions attached to Varavara Rao’s temporary medical bail, and to grant Rao indefinite compassionate release.

Narendra Modi

Role: Prime Minister of India
Address:  E Block, E Block, Central Secretariat, New Delhi, Delhi 110011, India

Amit Shah

Role: Union Home Minister of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India
Address: Ministry of Home Affairs, North Block, New Delhi 110001, India.


Innocent Bahati © Andrea Grieder

Innocent Bahati

Innocent Bahati is a popular Rwandan poet known for his open and critical expression on social issues. He publishes his poetry on YouTube and Facebook and regularly performs at poetry events. Bahati has been missing since 07 February 2021. After two days of trying to establish his whereabouts, his friends reported Bahati’s disappearance to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau who said Bahati was not in their custody and that they were investigating the matter. Friends and associates of Bahati believe that his disappearance is in relation to his critical poetry, particularly his recent poems: ‘Hunger’; ‘Poverty’; and ‘Long Regulations’. It is reported that before Bahati went missing, a prominent pro-government public figure had posted a comment on Facebook linking Bahati’s views to President Paul Kagame’s critics who continue to face repression for their dissenting voices. In 2017, Bahati had similarly disappeared after he posted a poem on Facebook only to reappear in police custody. PEN is investigating what appears to be Bahati’s enforced disappearance. A video of ‘Rubebe’, one of Innocent Bahati’s poems, is available here.


Take action

Ask the Rwandan authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Innocent Bahati and to guarantee his safety, wellbeing and right to life. Send a message to President Paul Kagame and to the Secretary General of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, Jeannot K. Ruhunga.


Paul Kagame

Role: President of the Republic of Rwanda





Jeannot K. Ruhunga

Role: Secretary General of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB)





Notes to PEN Centres:

  • The images used for this campaign can be re-used and shared by PEN Centres.

Notes to editors:

  • PEN International activities to celebrate World Poetry Day, are part of a series of events planned throughout 2021 to mark PEN International’s Centenary. Founded in 1921 by English writer Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, PEN International has spent 100 years celebrating literature and protecting freedom of expression. You can stand up for persecuted writers by making a donation


The Australian Centres of PEN International condemn charges against Maria Ressa and reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr

13 March, 2021

Throughout the Philippines, critical journalists are being sent a chilling message: you are only safe in silence. Make a difference. #HoldTheLine via


24 June 2020

The Australian Centres of PEN International condemn the charges recently brought in the Philippines against Maria Ressa and reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr of the Rappler news website. This is another instance of a ruthless leader, President Duterte, acting with impunity and silencing those who challenge his power.

On 15 June, Maria Ressa, co-founder, CEO, and executive editor of the Rappler news website,and one of the Philippines most prominent journalists, was found guilty of ‘cyber-libel’ along with with journalist, Reynaldo Santos Jr.

The charges were brought by businessman, Wilfredo Keng, in response to an article written by Santos Jr eight years ago which alleged criminal ties between Keng and a senior judge.

Judge Estacio-Montesa sentenced Ressa and Santos to a minimum of 6 months and 1 day to a maximum of 6 years in jail.

Dubious legal manipulations took place to bring this case to court, resulting in Ressa’s claim that ‘the law has been weaponised’.

PEN Melbourne, PEN Sydney, and PEN Perth stand wholeheartedly with Ressa and Santos, and call on the Philippines government to immediately dismiss all charges against them.

Support Maria Ressa HERE.


The Philippines now ranks 136th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.

Maria Ressa has been a powerful and courageous voice under Duterte’s radically unjust regime, and the judgement brought against her is a call out to all who fight for freedom of expression around the world.

Immediately following the hearing, Ressa said:

‘Freedom of the press is the foundation of every single right you have as a Filipino citizen. If we can’t hold power to account, we can’t do anything . . . Are we going to lose freedom of the press? Will it be death by a thousand cuts, or are we going to hold the line so that we protect the rights that are enshrined in our constitution?’ The mission of Rappler, Ressa added, would remain unchanged. ‘We’re at the precipice. If we fall over we’re no longer a democracy’. Source.

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, said that the higher courts in the Philippines have a responsibility to reverse the verdict against Ms. Ressa, and that ‘the law used to convict Ms. Ressa, and the journalist who authored the article which led to their prosecution, is plainly inconsistent with the Philippines’ obligations under international law’. Mr Kaye warned that ‘any criminalisation of journalism, as took place here, serves only to defeat the ability of journalists to inform the public, to ensure open and rigorous public debate’. Source.

Arrest and imprisonment of Arash Ganji in Iran.

1 March, 2021

Arrest and imprisonment of Arash Ganji in Iran.


A court of appeal in Iran on 28 February confirmed that writer, translator and secretary of the Iranian Writers’ Association, Mr Arash Ganji will be imprisoned for 11 years. His arrest and imprisonment are imminent.



Arash Ganji is a well-known Iranian writer and translator, and currently serves as Secretary of the Iranian Writers’ Association (IWA). On December 22, 2019, authorities raided Mr Ganji’s apartment and confiscated his belongings, including his laptop, books, and notes, and then arrested him on undisclosed charges. An IWA member close to this case has said that Mr Ganji’s arrest was in connection with his translation of a book about a Kurdish-led uprising in northern Syria, A Small Key Can Open A Large Door: The Rojava Revolution.


In January 2021 Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Iran sentenced Mr Ganji to 11 years imprisonment – conspiracy five years, propaganda against the system five years and membership in illegal organisation one year.

Mr Ganji suffers from a serious heart condition that requires medical care and which his family fears is being denied.

PEN Melbourne stands in solidarity with our Iranian colleagues – writers unjustly harassed and persecuted for their writing and peaceful activism. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, that is all individuals imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression or other human rights; and drop all charges that are pending against any individuals which stem solely from their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression or other human rights.

PEN Melbourne calls for the Iranian authorities to immediately drop the unjust charges against Arash Ganji.  Mr Ganji has committed no crime and he should be released immediately, and provided with all necessary medical attention he requires.

Letter to a brave writer imprisoned in Turkey for telling the truth on Erdogan’s regime and refusing to submit to evil. His freedom denied must concern us all

Dear Ahmet Altan, your magic is stronger than their walls

Letter to a brave writer imprisoned in Turkey for telling the truth on Erdogan’s regime and refusing to submit to evil. His freedom denied must concern us all

Corriere Della Sera

Dear Ahmet,

as of today, February 6, 2021, you’ve been jailed in Turkey for 1589 days, that is, since September 23, 2016. Your crime? Being a writer. 1589 days. Not years, but days. Counting jail time in years gives you the impression that time flies by, but no, jail time should be marked in minutes, seconds, single breaths even. It should be measured in daylight denied, in square feet of restricted space.


You see, Ahmet, when I think of you in detention I can’t stop thinking of every single thing that has been taken from you, however small. Out here, and far away, it’s so easy to explain the reason of your sentence: you wrote novels, you spoke your mind in a number of articles, and you did so on Taraf, the newspaper you launched in 2007 to spread information and awareness. No gimmicks, no mystifying words, everything out in the open: just like your published books and articles. Ideas, facts, theories, to which anyone could respond with other ideas, other facts, other theories. But no: they took away your freedom. To freeze your words, they locked you up in a cell. They can’t even begin to imagine that a cell can at best emprison bodies, but has no power over words.

College students take to the streets in protest

I’m writing to you from the pages of Corriere della Sera, because private letters can’t reach you anymore in Silivri jail. My words would be scrutinized and confiscated, they’d be robbed of their right to make their way into your hands. I decided to write to you now because I presume the new Biden administration in America will turn the international spotlight back on Fethullah Gülen, that old enemy, the enemy Erdogan has provisionally pushed aside. But a very useful enemy he is: his alleged accomplices can be hunted down and arrested, seen as they are as a new set of threats to foil with the weapon of repression. I’m writing to you right now because the entire academic world in Turkey and all the college students are rising up and demonstrating in favour of lay culture, free from political pressures. I’m writing to you right now because these students are being arrested, and denied their right to speak freely. And I’m writing at this moment because I find it intolerable that a writer can be thrown into jail so easily, while the Turkish regime carries on as if nothing happened.

In 2018 you were given a life sentence for «inciting a coup» through «subliminal messages». Later on, the most damning charges were dropped and your sentence was cut down to 10 and a half years, to which – on Jan. 7, 2020 – 5 more years and 11 months were added for «insulting the president» and «spreading terrorist propaganda». You’re living a nightmare, a nightmare called Turkey. How can you stand up to it, Ahmet? We are empty-handed, sadly: we have no weapons, no capitals to shift, we don’t belong to the powerful elites. All we have is our ideas and our words, but I won’t give up, Ahmet. I’ll keep asking this simple question over and over, although I’m sure you already know the answer: how did your words manage to unnerve Erdogan – a powerful head of state, with an impressive, 700-thousand-strong army under his command – to the point of having you thrown into jail with no hope of recourse? How can it be that Turkish authorities, in their desperate effort to keep you behind bars, have made fools of themselves by dredging up the most absurd charges against you? From those «subliminal messages hinting at a coup» to «having tried to overthrow the Turkish government», from allegedly «being a member of a terrorist organization» to the most recent accusation: «to have supported a terrorist group without being part of it». But truth be told, there are no credible charges against you to explain the harsh treatment you’ve been meted, there is no real reason for you to be remanded into custody and no convincing explanation for the farcical prosecutions you’ve been put through or the judgments rendered against you.

The charge of sending subliminal messages, just because a few hours before the failed golpe of July 2016 you were a guest on TV with your brother Mehmet Altan, is simply ridiculous. How could it be endorsed by the government and law-courts, shouldn’t such institutions care about their credibility, not just at home, but abroad as well? Or could it be they know for sure that international observers pay little attention to such matters or have their minds elsewhere? And what are they accusing you of, exactly? Of giving voice to your thoughts in writing? Of spreading messages? But that’s exactly what a writer does when he tells a story, that’s what a journalist does when sifting through events. Those messages defined as «subliminal» by the prosecution are nothing but the subtle emotions rising to the surface in the wake of ideas, and when emotions and ideas embrace, then words become important, imperative even. This is why they tried to stop you. In the end, you see, I get it. Your words are so dangerous, you can’t be allowed to use them. And they’re dangerous because they’re complex, and addressed to everybody, even those who disagree with you. Dangerous, because you show power for what it really is: it’s nothing, it’s the void, it’s arbitrariness which retains the ability, nonetheless, to clamp down on society and crush the individual.

Like your father and Pushkin

Dear Ahmet, I guess you must be smiling watching me as I try my best to recount what happened to you. I never managed to learn your lesson, yours and your father’s: never stick to the script, never get carried away by impulse. I know it well, we’re to blame for the disruption in our lives, because we allowed it by behaving according to expectations. Your father taught you this very principle almost fifty years ago. He too was a journalist and when the soldiers came to your house, your father made tea for the search patrol. Later, as he was taken away in handcuffs, he turned around to face you, your brother and your mother, with a big smile on his face. «Reality»– you wrote – «can’t overpower me. I am stronger than reality». In times such as these you are fond of quoting a short story by our beloved Pushkin, a story close to our hearts, «The Shot». Remember the duel scene, when Silvio has his gun aimed at his enemy’s heart, but his enemy keeps eating cherries, and the more Silvio wants the other to pay attention because he’s about to fire and maybe kill him, the more his rival seems to care about his cherries and very little about his life. The shot won’t be fired: the dueller refuses to abide by the rules of the duel. Likewise your call to action. Take Borges’ advice: when the robber shouts «Your money or your life», why don’t you offer him your life? Surprise him, don’t be predictable. When they arrested you, both times, you managed to defuse the fear and intimidation that Erdogan’s men had been ordered to strike into you: you smiled at them, as you wrote in your book I Will Never See The World Again. Now I want to hold on to those pages, share them far and wide, multiply them among the only people who can truly prevent a cell door from being shut forever: your readers. You truly embody, my dear Ahmet, the principle of Epictetus: even when your body is enslaved, your mind remains free. You are getting there.

When you were freed for a few days in November 2019, presumably to see if you’d try to run away, we met on Skype… that memory will stay with me till the end. You didn’t try to flee, you didn’t even think of it, for you have always known the difference between exposing and witnessing: you expose in your words, you witness in your body. The Turkish regime itself could change by witnessing rather than exposing, as it carries in its own body the inconsistencies of power. Just a few days ago we heard of the students’ protests at Bosphorus University against the appointment – by presidential order – of Melih Bulu as chancellor, a most blatant political move, seeing as Bulu is one of Erdogan’s men. On 29 January, a group of students set up an exhibition of photos and drawings on freedom of speech, gender rights and peace. They drew a rainbow, the international symbol that stands for pacifism and the LGBT community, on a picture of Kaaba, the most holy monument of Islam. Those students have been arrested and charged for «insulting religious values», a crime that doesn’t even exist in Turkish criminal law, according to their defence counsel. They were arrested for drawing a rainbow and setting up an exhibition on freedom of speech; they were arrested because they demand that universities be free from political interference.

More students were arrested (159 in total, 98 released a few hours later); they too, just like you, Ahmet, have responded with happiness. Their protests are full of music and dance. Nothing could be further from the gloomy halls of power, so freakish and dumb. And while the foreign secretary brands them as «deviants» and «perverts», while the government threatens, jails, prosecutes and sanctions them, all of us here are simply watching what’s going on. We too have been drawing rainbows on every possible surface since the beginning of the pandemic, and we stand still, our eyes fixed on yet another act of tyranny that infringes the rights of each and everyone and deprives you of your freedom. In the last five years, 200 journalists, of all ages and political affiliations, have been thrown into jail in Turkey. This has happened because of our indifference, past and present. Since I first met you, you have taught me, through your words and books, that each individual can make a difference. An act of kindness is never useless, an act of cruelty is never irrelevant. I’m thinking of that woman who didn’t want to remove your handcuffs when they were taking you to X-ray, out of pure wickedness. The police officer was about to unlock them, but she said no, there was no need: «Leave them on!» Why such heartlessness? How was it possible? Why deny a prisoner a moment of respite? Such cruel gestures are born out of habit, maybe even out of the need for such places to exist, far removed from our eyes, where cruelty and vengefulness can be given free rein, because those who end up in such places surely deserve cruelty and vengefulness, whatever the reason.

The incarcerated mind

Let’s be clear: a jail embodies that share of vengefulness, that share of cruelty that hides in all of us. «They’re locked up because they did something bad»: with these words we justify everything that can happen to a convict. «You’re in jail because you did something wrong, and your lot in life is none of my business». This truism is applied to each and every incarcerated person, of any nationality, whatever the prison conditions. Why are we even here to tell your story? Maybe in order to explain that sending people to jail should in no way satisfy our desire for revenge, but rather lead to a better outcome: to bring the offender back into society. But if sending someone to jail allays that measure of cruelty we feel entitled to, what happens when jailing people is the only means to muzzle a dissident? To stop political opponents? To stifle, as in your case, Ahmet, your freedom of thought? The jail’s threshold is not just made of gates, locks, armed guards and security cameras: it’s first and foremost a mental threshold. You’re either in, or out. And between in and out, it’s quite convenient to deny all direct exchanges, for all interactions must be brokered by someone else. Rules and regulations are imposed, and our share of vengefulness, which must be preserved at all cost, prevents us from understanding that those codes are part and parcel of segregation; and that, as human beings, we all move seamlessly between in and out. Let’s ask this question at last. Let’s not debate it publicly, but rather ponder it in our hearts, to escape all judgment: what is a jail? Does it stand for victory, the victory of man on man, the victory of those who live outside on those who are locked in? The victory of those who «deserve» to be out on those who «deserve» to be in? Remember when we were children, when one of our mates was scolded for getting in trouble: we had got away with it and felt so relieved to see the culprit punished. Yes, that’s a square on the moral checkerboard that can’t be left empty for too long. When you know there is such a thing as a jail, and you live outside of it, not only do you feel at peace with your conscience, but you are entitled to not care.

Whereas the first thing we must do is to fight indifference and be aware of evil, because when you become accustomed to evil to the point of not recognizing it anymore, not feeling disgusted by it and keeping it there as a never-ending possibility, this means the inhumane in us has prevailed. In jail, Ahmet, you saw beaten bodies, bodies locked in solitary confinement, bodies crumpled in shame, for among the most intolerable tortures there are those that force you to accuse innocent people, people you don’t even know. You told the story of a young boy who was coerced to accuse some Kurds, any Kurds, people he’d never met… they needed his confession to justify a military attack on that village. The boy knew full well that if he mentioned the name of someone who had done him no wrong, who had broken no laws, he would probably be released from prison. But he refused: «I just can’t name names, I’m not a coward».

Ahmet, you recounted how you saw the copper that is in each and all of us turn to gold. We can turn into rare and precious metals when we so decide, this is the secret of the philosopher’s stone: to change a plain alloy into pure gold thanks to the truth and by choosing the truth. Ahmet, I’m not just inviting, with these words of mine, I am pleading from the bottom of my heart with all those people who believe in truth to put pen to paper, or open their computers, to write to you. To address, on your behalf, as many letters as possible, to send an avalanche of letters to the Turkish Embassy in Rome (via Palestro 28, 00185 Rome, or and tell them that we care deeply about you, about what’s happening to you, about what they’re doing to you. And I do hope that by word-of-mouth many more people will ask themselves how can it be that you, a writer, an intellectual, have been locked up for 1585 days, have been denied your freedom by an authoritarian president who is afraid of a free mind. Hopefully your story will travel far and reach as many people as possible.

Do you remember Anna Achmatova? She couldn’t write her poems for fear of a persecution far worse than what she had already been subjected to. So she used to write down her poems and set them on fire, but first she would learn them by heart and recite them to her friends who, in turn, would memorize them and teach them to others. The word-of-mouth worked beautifully and Achmatova’s words finally reached those who could write them on paper without fear of persecution. Thus her poems were saved, one at a time, through the memory of many people. Likewise your story, Ahmet, will be saved: we shall speak of what they’re doing to you until we have breath in our lungs, ink in our pens, strength in our fingers to tap on the keys of our computers, or until the door of that bloody jail will open and you will regain your well-deserved freedom. That day will be full of light, a day of truce, a day that will stand still when we finally stop marking time. One day soon, I promise, we’ll hug each other, because, as you say: «I am a writer and you can’t find me either where I am or where I’m not. You can lock me up in jail, but you can’t keep me there. I do magic, I can walk through walls».

A big hug to you, Ahmet, my friend…

(Traduzione di Rita Baldassarre)