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Despite threats of violence, imprisonment and death, writers around the world continue to fight to make their voices heard. The latest issue of Index on Censorship pays tribute to one of the world’s longest running campaigns for free expression, English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC). Founded in 1960, the WiPC supports and protects writers facing persecution around the globe.
Contributors to Beyond Bars – including award-winning authors Margaret Atwood, Sir Tom Stoppard and William Boyd – highlight the vital role writers can play in supporting their colleagues. As Tom Stoppard writes:
“When it comes to the fate of individuals no one, not even a writer, needs to be useless. Political prisoners are less vulnerable when they are kept in our view and known to be so.”
The issue also features articles by writers who have themselves been the victims of persecution, including celebrated Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho. Arrested and threatened after exposing an international paedophile ring, she speaks out about the “double-edged sword” of working in the media spotlight:
“Acts of aggression are intended to silence us, wear us out, or distract our attention from what’s really important. Prizes and accolades are converted into shields to protect and forums to express the messages others are trying to conceal.”
The issue emphasises the real danger in expecting writers to have a political focus too, leading to another kind of censorship altogether. What is absolutely essential is that writers are able to work in a landscape that allows ideas to flourish – and that no writer is silenced. “You can take the guts out of the investigative journalists, both figuratively and literally, but so far no one has been able to completely suppress the human urge that’s at least as old as the Book of Job: the need to tell," Margaret Atwood writes.
Beyond Bars also highlights 50 key cases the WiPC has championed, including imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is due for release in 2020.
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