Video link now added: Day of the Imprisoned Writer: Behrouz Boochani and Kylie Moore-Gilbert

Together with PEN Melbourne, we invite you to join Behrouz Boochani, Kylie Moore-Gilbert and host Karen Percy for a conversation about the importance of freedom of speech and press, and the role writers play in challenging oppressive regimes.

About the Event

Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani was imprisoned on Manus Island for over six years, and during that time he became acutely aware that oppression takes root when people look away. He was determined to use his sharpest weapon – his words – to survive, and to expose Australia’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers.

Now, in 2023, not only is Boochani free, he’s also a multi-award-winning author, documentary maker, humanitarian and scholar. His words, and those of other writers and activists, have changed lives, his own included. And they’ve helped keep us accountable.

A scholar of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, Kylie Moore-Gilbert also spent years unjustly imprisoned in unimaginable conditions. Invited on a study tour of Iran in 2018, Moore-Gilbert was falsely accused of espionage and imprisoned for more than 800 days, including seven months in solitary confinement – before her ultimate release through an Australian-brokered prisoner exchange.

Boochani and Moore-Gilbert come together for this special event, presented by PEN Melbourne and the Wheeler Centre to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. With host Karen Percy, these remarkable survivors will share their powerful stories, and reflect on the role of writing to shine a light in the darkest places.

The event can now be watched here:

Day of Imprisoned Writer 2023

Presented in partnership with PEN Melbourne.

They frame to kill by Mammad Aidani

They frame to kill

by Mammad Aidani

The young children of Iran have been killed in the bud of their youth. The young ones never experienced
freedom, justice, and the joy of growing up in their society.
Iranians’ prisons continue to be full of innocent young adults who seek justice, freedom and democracy.
Thousands have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, social and
environmental activists, and others.
Among the imprisoned is Narges Mohammadi, the Nobel Peace winner for this year, and other fearless artists
such as Tomaj Salehi
The Iranian Islamic killing machine continues to take away freedom and justice-loving Iranian women and men.
The harassment, arrest, introduction, torture, and executions in Iran continue. The recent execution of
Mohammad Ghobadlou, who was handed a death sentence in 2022 for allegedly killing a police officer during
the nationwide “Women, Life, Freedom” protests against the Islamic Regime’s despotic leaders despite calls by
human rights groups to stop the execution after he was diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Mohammad Ghobadlou, 23, was hanged on the morning of 23 January 2024 in Qazlhesar prison without the
right to see his mother or father and the right to an appointment with a lawyer.
Qobadlou was arrested during the massive nationwide protests that broke out after the brutal death of Mahsa
Amini in the custody of morality police in Tehran for an accusation of Islamic regime head scarf violation.
Gobadlou was charged with murder after being accused of running over police officers, killing one and injuring
Before Qobadlou’s execution, his lawyer Amir Raisian said that his execution had “no legal permit” because the
Islamic Supreme Court had annulled his death sentence and the case had been referred to a new jurisdiction
for reconsideration due to a diagnosis from doctors that Qobadloo suffered from bipolar disorder.
Masoumeh Ahmadi, Qobadlou’s mother, stated in a video last year that her son had discontinued his
medication before the protests.
The human rights group insisted that the entire case against Mohammad Qobadlou was based on forced
confessions under torture, which is standard practice within the Islamic regime, after arresting the writers,
journalists, musicians and other activists who criticise or oppose it.

International Women’s Day (IWD) 2024 Reading the poetry of women writers persecuted, incarcerated and killed

International Women’s Day (IWD) 2024

Reading the poetry of women writers persecuted, incarcerated and killed


Join PEN Melbourne on Thursday 7 March, at 7pm

Multipurpose Room 2 (upstairs, there is a lift)

Kathleen Syme Centre

251 Faraday Street
Carlton VIC 3053


$10 booking on Eventbrite:


You’re invited to join PEN Melbourne members and friends for IWD 2024 when we’ll read the poetry of women writers unjustly incarcerated, killed and in other ways silenced. We will write cards to persecuted women including Mahvash Sabet and Narges Mohammadi to let them know we are thinking of them. Come along to our card writing evening, meet PEN Melbourne members and share refreshments as we acknowledge courageous women writers who cannot be with us.

We’ll read poems by:

Mahvash Sabet Narges Mohammadi Hiba Abu Nada Dareen Tatour Mizgin Ronak


China: writer Yang Hengjun handed suspended death sentence following deeply flawed trial




China: writer Yang Hengjun handed suspended death sentence following deeply flawed trial

PEN International joins the undersigned PEN Centres in condemning the handing down of a suspended death to Australian writer Yang Hengjun, five years after he was detained and accused of espionage. The sentence will result in Yang spending the rest of his life in prison unless he can make a successful appeal.

On 5 February 2024, reports emerged that Yang Hengjun had been given a suspended death sentence by a local court in China. The sentencing takes place over two and a half years after his trial took place behind closed doors, raising significant concerns regarding Yang Hengjun’s right to a fair trial and the principle of judicial transparency. The court’s judgement was delayed on numerous occasions, compounding the injustice that Yang has been subjected to.

This is a shocking, unacceptable outcome of a flawed, opaque judicial process in which a writer has been denied his basic human rights of representation and a fair trial. We stand in solidarity with Yang Hengjun and call on the PRC government to end its assault on freedom of expression.” said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

There are grave concerns for his health and ability to receive adequate healthcare while detained. He has a large cyst on his kidney and has been kept in solitary confinement for large parts of his time in prison.

In light of the serious procedural issues surrounding his trial and the unsubstantiated allegations made against him, we call on the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to quash Yang Hengjun’s conviction and for his immediate and unconditional release. We also call on the Australian authorities to petition more forcefully for his release.


  •         PEN International
  •         Independent Chinese PEN Centre
  •         PEN Melbourne
  •         PEN Perth
  •         PEN Sydney



Yang Hengjun is an Australian novelist, scholar and political commentator who is committed to the advancement of human rights and greater freedoms in China. His trilogy of spy novels, known as the Fatal Weakness series, is centred on the fictional escapades of a double agent working for both the US and PRC government intelligence agencies. The series is reportedly banned in the PRC but has been shared widely online among Chinese diasporas.

His blog posts have garnered a significant following on Chinese social media, and dozens of his articles were later translated into English and published on The Diplomat. Common themes in his writing are the virtues of democratic values, the need for greater understanding between China and the United States, and his personal awakening to the problematic aspects of autocratic rule, earning him the nickname ‘Democracy Peddler’ among his followers.

In January 2019, Yang reportedly flew with his wife and child from the United States to China where he was then detained by the PRC government’s security services. He was initially held at a secret location for six months in a notorious form of extrajudicial detention called Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location, where Yang was reportedly tortured. In August 2019 Yang was formally arrested on suspicion of espionage without any evidence supporting the charge disclosed to his family or consular representatives.

Throughout his over two years of pre-trial detention, Yang was denied family visits and was granted limited access to legal counsel and consular visits. He was reportedly subjected to over 300 interrogations and his request for the dismissal of testimony he gave under torture was denied by the PRC government.

On 27 May 2021, Yang’s trial was held behind closed doors and reportedly lasted less than seven hours, with his consular representatives denied the ability to attend, a breach of both the Vienna Convention and the Australia-China bilateral consular agreement.

Prior to the commencement of his trial, Yang Hengjun shared his hope that he would be able to continue writing ‘to help China to understand the world’ in a message he had transcribed while detained. When considering the trial’s potential outcome, Yang Hengjun said:

‘If worse comes to worst, if someone wants to take revenge on me for my writings, please explain to the people inside China what I did, and the significance of my writing to people in China. The values and beliefs which we shared, and which I shared with my readers, are something bigger than myself.’

Day X 24 hr Vigil for Assange at UK Consulate, 20 Feb

A public hearing in the extradition trial of Wikileaks editor, publisher, and founder Julian Assange, initiated by the US authorities in 2019, will occur on 20-21 February 2024. The two-day hearing will convene before a panel of two judges reviewing a prior High Court decision made by a single judge in June 2023, which denied Assange permission to appeal. This will determine whether Assange will have further chances to present his case in UK courts or will have exhausted all appeals, leading to the commencement of the extradition process. An application before the European Court of Human Rights remains a possibility. If extradited, Assange faces up to 175 years in prison for exposing human rights abuses perpetrated by the US army during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

In Melbourne a 24 hour vigil is being held, starting at 5pm on the 20th Feb, at the UK Consulate, 90 Collins Street, Melbourne. If you intend on staying overnight, you will need your own swag. Otherwise, come and support for as long as you wish. Musicians are being encouraged to attend to provide entertainment.


We are pleased to share PEN International’s video in support of Assange, featuring our spokesperson Sabrina Tucci, which is being promoted by the Free Assange campaign and on our social media channels: We would be grateful if you could kindly amplify in the lead up to the hearing.

Josephine Scicluna & Zara Gudnason

Writers in Prison Co-convenors

Melbourne Centre of PEN International

PEN Melbourne supports PEN International and PEN America’s statements on the Israel/OPT war.

PEN Melbourne supports PEN International and PEN America’s statements on the Israel/OPT war.
In this dreadful time of war, PEN Melbourne maintains that our clear focus remains the acknowledgment of and campaign for writers at risk, those unjustly silenced, imprisoned and murdered for their peaceful work as journalists, storytellers, poets, bloggers.
The PEN America statement linked here is based on research into the deaths of Palestinian and Israeli writers and tells the stories of some of those who are not simply “numbers killed”.  The dead are named and their work is made known to us, their lives are honoured in this way.
“If ever there was a moment for fostering understanding and solidarity, it is now. Yet the people we turn to in dark times – the writers, artists, journalists and creatives whose work motivates empathy, spurs collaboration, and ignites dreams of a peaceful future – are themselves victims of this war. Their voices are being suppressed, and some completely extinguished.”
Likewise, PEN International has published several statements since the war began that call for a ceasefire and the cessation of the killing of innocent citizens, including those attempting to report from the war zones.
“PEN International is horrified by the mounting toll of civilian casualties and the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza. The organisation calls for an immediate ceasefire, the protection of civilians, including the release of all hostages, and the end of the siege imposed on Gaza.
Indiscriminately harming innocent civilians is unacceptable, whether it is the result of attacks by Hamas or bombardments by Israeli forces. Blocking the delivery of prompt and effective humanitarian aid to Gaza will only impact innocent civilians. Such conduct unquestionably violates international humanitarian law and must be halted immediately. A ceasefire must be enacted now. Let humanity win,” said Burhan Sonmez, PEN International President.
PEN America
Christine McKenzie

PEN Melbourne
Dissent is not terrorism
Journalism is not a crime
Literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals’.

PEN YOUTUBE: Why Dictators Are Afraid of Literature

Although writers have no armies they are feared by autocrats, says Indian-born British-American novelist Salman Rushdie, because of their alternative versions of the world. Rushdie survived an assassination attempt in 2022 which came 32 years after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him for alleged blasphemy.

The number of writers who are persecuted and often driven into exile has been increasing all over the world for years. Arts Unveiled talks to writers Salman Rushdie, Stella Nyanzi, Gioconda Belli, Burhan Sönmez and Volha Hapeyeva about the power of novels and poems. And why they refuse to give up despite intimidation.

Stella Nyanzi from Uganda was imprisoned twice in a high-security jail and her family was threatened because of a poem which was deemed insulting to President Museveni.

Gioconda Belli, a bestselling author from Nicaragua, had her citizenship revoked by President Ortega and all her property confiscated. She lives in exile but continues to write and fight against what she calls an unjust regime.

Burhan Sönmez, President of the writers’ association PEN International and a Turkish Kurd, has also been imprisoned under various Turkish regimes and receives death threats to this day.

Dmitry Glukhovsky is a bestselling author of dystopian novels. And he’s been living in exile from Russia since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Only a few weeks ago, he was accused of being a “foreign agent” and was sentenced to eight years in prison. For condemning the war, he’s been accused of being an “enemy of the state.” #dwhistoryandculture For more visit: ⮞ Follow DW Culture on Facebook:   / dw.culture   ⮞ Follow DW Culture on Twitter: Please follow DW’s netiquette: 00:00

Intro 01:05 Why dictators are afraid of writers

03:09 Stella Nyanzi vs. Yoweri Museveni

08:09 Salman Rushdie vs. the Iran authority

10:00 Burhan Sönmez vs. Turkish nationalists

13:33 Gioconda Belli vs. the Nicaraguan regime

18:38 Dmitry Glukhovsky vs. the Kremlin

23:42 What does the future hold for the writers?

25:29 Conclusion

PEN President’s NY Message “It is human nature to hope…”

It is human nature to hope. As we enter the new year, we want to feel well and think good
But, does everyone have hope? As you read this letter, does a young Israeli woman who is
being held hostage by Hamas in an undetermined location have any hope? What does her
family feel? What about a child from Gaza who survived his house, which was destroyed by
the bombs of the Israeli Army, and who does not know where to go now? How does he feel
about the new year? Can people really hear the news of something good in Ukraine, Myanmar,
Sudan and beyond nowadays?
Every war causes ethical shock as well as political and social destruction. In such times, the
interests of states and nations take precedence over the needs of people and they try to direct
daily language accordingly. So much so that sometimes even talking about the lives of
innocents or peace seems against national interests.
We know that the word peace is not the oldest word of humanity. Since ancient societies
needed peace, it means that there was war before that. The question for us writers is not about
the old but about the new: Which one should be the new and last word of humanity, war or
War divides societies into vertical sections, draws national lines and makes everyone behind
these lines appear as enemies to each other. However, while these vertical divisions separate
societies from one another, we look at life horizontally and try to build bridges that cross
borders. It was no coincidence that PEN International emerged after the devastation of the First
World War. It was no coincidence that PEN, a writer’s organization, established a committee
dedicated solely to peace in the midst of the Cold War. The Writers for Peace Committee we
established in 1984 was a concrete step expressing the dream of the peaceful development of
literature and life in general. The fact that this dream is still needed in the twenty-first century
shows that the course of the world is not at the desired level.
A war that breaks out in one place is not limited to that place, it spreads to every region in
different forms and endangers the future. The latest conflict in the Middle East is already
causing a simultaneous rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in many places. Calls for
cultural boycott also enlarge this problem. PEN International’s call for cultural dialogue
maintains its value today as it did in the past.
We are united, as “we champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality in one
world”. That is our strength.
Our efforts are not in vain. It is an acknowledgement that in recent years, advocates of peace,
dialogue and freedom of expression have been deemed worthy of the Nobel Prize. People like
Nargis Mohammadi, Ales Bialiatski, Dimitry Muratov and Maria Ressa have been recognized
with international support from communities including the great family of PEN International.
We believe in the nation of writers, as we now celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). We reflect on the role played by the PEN movement in
shaping the meaning and messages of what would become a global road map for freedom,
equality, and human rights for all. In shaping this global charter, PEN’s literary spirit has not
only penned words but woven a narrative of freedom, human rights, and international

With this belief, I would like to share with you a film prepared by Germany’s DW Channel,
focusing on PEN International’s fight for freedom of expression and stating why dictators are
afraid of literature:
We may sometimes feel despair in us. But we continue to write, read, and reach out to others,
keeping in mind the value of a single person’s voice and its impact on history. It is an award for
all of us that Jon Fosse, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, writes with a
minority dialect, Nynorsk, and through which he gives a voice to the world from a far away
corner in shadow.
When I attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, one of the most important meetings was
the event of the guest country Slovenia. The importance of “deep readings” or “higher level
readings” was discussed around the Ljubljana Reading Manifesto, which was also supported by
PEN International. I emphasized in my speech that free reading is a way of higher level
reading, and writers, readers and organizations like us who strive to ensure this freedom
embrace the value of reading.
Mystic poet Al-Hallaj said a thousand years ago: “Hell is not the place where we suffer, / it’s
the place where no one hears us suffering.”
We hear the painful voices of people in Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ukraine, Israel,
Palestine and beyond, and let’s hope they hear our voices too. They deserve a hopeful new year
more than anyone.
I wish you a better year ahead with your family and loved ones.
With solidarity,

Burhan Sonmez
President, PEN International

Upcoming Conference: Night Falls in the Evening Lands – The Assange Epic

We invite you to the UPCOMING CONFERENCE

Saturday 9 March 2024                  Storey Hall, RMIT, Melbourne

The announcement of Julian Assange’s final appeal in the UK High Court on 20 and 21 February 2024 magnifies the critical importance of this conference in defending his case and cause. Those who have been fighting for truth, peace and justice understand the precious nature of freedom of thought and expression.

If extradited to the United States to face espionage charges, Julian faces a sentence of 175 years for exposing war crimes committed by the United States in the Afghan and Iraq wars.

We need solidarity more than ever. Our human rights are intertwined with Julian‘s. By attending this conference, either in person or virtually, you amplify our collective voice.

Furthermore, if you have platforms or channels that can mobilise those within your sphere of influence, please disseminate the attached flyer far and wide.

We also welcome a new speaker to our conference, Dr Ruth Mitchell, the first woman Chair of the Board of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Peace Prize in 1985. Her details will be added to our website and new flyers.


Early Bird tickets for attendance and online participation are available for a limited time.

Bookings at:



We look forward to seeing you. TICKETS ARE LIMITED. BOOK NOW