Day of the Imprisoned Writer: Why persecuted authors need our support


Egypt - Ahmed Naji

The Egyptian author Ahmed Naji is serving a two-year prison sentence for "violation of public modesty." He wrote a novel with a sex scene and a reader sued him, claiming that the content made his heartbeat fluctuate. PEN International calls for the release of Naji on the basis of his universal right to freedom of expression.


Honduras - Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa

Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa is a founding member of PEN Honduras. For years, he has faced unlawful state surveillance. Now he is threatened with a prison sentence of several years. PEN International calls for his release, as the worldwide association of writers believes that Padilla and other students are prosecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly.


China - Gao Yu

The German government has intervened several times to defend Gao Yu. The renowned Chinese journalist has been repeatedly sentenced to long prison terms for criticizing her country's political system in her articles. Gao Yu has also worked for Deutsche Welle.


Saudi-Arabia - Raif Badawi

The fate of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi made headlines worldwide. The internet activist and creator of the website "Free Saudi Liberals" was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam." The European Parliament awarded him the 2015 Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, which was handed out to his wife in his name.


Israel - Dareen Tatour

The Israeli police arrested the Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour on October 11, 2015. She was charged with "support for a terrorist organisation" and "incitements to violence" through her poems. PEN International calls for her immediate release.


Turkey - Asli Erdogan

The author of seven novels, Asli Erdogan was working as a journalist until she was arrested on August 17, 2016 in her apartment in Istanbul, a month after the attempted coup in Turkey. At the beginning of November, she wrote an urgent plea to world leaders from the infamous Bakirkoy Prison where she is detained. PEN International urges Turkish authorities to release her immediately.


China - Gui Minhai

Critic of the regime and author Gui Minhai lived in Hong Kong and ran the publishing house Mighty Current. In October 2015, he suddenly disappeared during a stay in Thailand. Observers suspect his disappearance is linked to a book published by Gui about a former lover of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Writers committed to freedom of expression are persecuted worldwide. German representative of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee Sascha Feuchert tells DW why appeals to world leaders need to be repeated.

Initiated by PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee, the Day of the Imprisoned Writer is observed every year on November 15 to draw attention to the cases of imprisoned or persecuted authors. It is also a day to commemorate writers who were killed for expressing their opinion.

The worldwide association of writers, PEN International, selects each year five cases exemplifying the repression that occurs every day worldwide. Highlighted this year are the fates of Asli Erdogan (Turkey), Ahmed Naji (Egypt), Gui Minhai (China), Dareen Tatour (Israel) and Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa (Honduras).

The numbers revealed by the International Writers in Prison Committee in London offer a dark assessment of the situation of freedom of expression worldwide: In 2015, 1,054 authors were attacked, imprisoned, tortured or killed. DW offers information on the special page

Sascha Feuchert Porträt

Vice-President of PEN Germany and representative for the Writers in Prison Committee, Sascha Feuchert

DW: Mr. Feuchert, what do the five cases highlighted by PEN International for this year's Day of the Imprisoned Writer have in common?

Sascha Feuchert: They are five people who were all intensively committed to freedom of expression and who were to different degrees punished for it, whether in Turkey, China, Israel or Honduras.

According to your observations, where is freedom of expression most threatened in the world?

Based on the numbers, Turkey is the country where the most authors are currently imprisoned. It is also the country we are monitoring the most closely at the moment, because the situation is deteriorating there practically every day.

Why do powerful people fear the opinion of others, even though they are the ones in power? 

I think dictatorships are dependent on the fact that no opposition may be allowed, no matter how small it is. Every voice of opposition creates a small crack in the wall. This is why people who exercise their right to freedom of expression are being persecuted so systematically. This follows the logic of a dictator and dictatorships.

Coming back to Turkey, what could break the arrogance of power? 

PEN-Zentrum Deutschland in Darmstadt

Working to protect freedom of expression worldwide: the PEN center in Darmstadt

The only thing that can help in principle is that local journalists continue to do their work and keep articulating their opinions in order to counter President Erdogan's efforts to turn the country into an autocracy. It is just as important that we support them in doing this, too.


By providing a forum to draw attention to what is happening to them, and by constantly calling on our governments to refuse to accept the situation in Turkey.

This call on our politicians to interfere is not new. Is it being heard and applied?

I have the impression that the German government is doing more now. We have been calling on Chancellor Angela Merkel to react for weeks now. This has finally succeeded, after the latest developments against the Turkish daily "Cumhuriyet." We were hoping to see this happen earlier, but we see that Foreign Minister Steinmeier and others are clearly positioning themselves now - and that's a good thing.

Germany was a guest of honor at the International Book Fair in Istanbul. Can this have an impact?

The impact is not clear yet, but I can say that I am very glad and proud that German authors have taken the opportunity to show their solidarity with their Turkish colleagues there and to express their opinions clearly. We will have to wait and see if this will have any long-term consequences.

Professor Sascha Feuchert, born in 1971, is the Writers in Prison representative and the vice-president of PEN Germany.