The PEN/​​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards honor international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression. Of the 37 who were in prison at the time they were honored, 34 have been subsequently released.

PEN AMERICAN CENTER


Freedom to Write
by Barbara Goldsmith


The year was 1987. We at PEN, then a small group, were working hard to turn a spotlight on prisoners of conscience the world over who were being jailed, tortured, and had disappeared. All this for nothing more than writing their beliefs and opinions. Our progress was slow and the attention paid almost invisible. We seemed to have little or no effect. At that meeting, it occurred to me that if there was a way to draw the spotlight to these prisoners that might engage the media and others that we might be able to help these endangered fellow writers. That’s how the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write award came to be.

But I never bargained for the emotional hold that these awardees would have on me personally. By the year 2012, often when I went to bed their names and faces, if I knew them, would float through my head. Flora Brovina, an Albanian woman living in Kosovo, who was thrown in jail for treating both Serbian and Croatian children who had been injured.

Just this week I received a small note (I reproduce it here) from Ragip Zarakolu, who I met when his wife Ayse Nur Zarakolu received the award in 1997. It was a Christmas card but it had taken all this time to reach me. In his prison cell, he had cut out a small newspaper picture and glued it on a piece of paper. When it arrived on my desk I felt no sentimentality, only a renewed anger and the urge to get him out of prison. Ragip had owned a small publishing company in Turkey and published “The Black Dog of Fate” by Peter Balakian about the Armenian Genocide. Only there was no Armenian Genocide according to Turkish officials and so he landed in jail. That was the first time. Every time he came out, he managed to keep up with his publishing and never give in until they wrecked his presses. He’s been to jail three or four times and in the last round his son Deniz also was arrested. This son, he told me, was the prime reason he had endured all this. He wanted to turn over his publishing company to Deniz. Now they both are languishing in prison.

And what about Liu Xiaobo? In 2009 we got the ball rolling there with the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith prize and Anthony Appiah kept it rolling until Xiaobo won a Nobel Peace Prize. He is still incarcerated and was unable to attend the Nobel ceremony. Then there is the Cuban Normando Hernandez Gonzalez whose health was so destroyed that by the time he was finally let him out of prison he had to be totally rehabilitated. Tortured, starved, put into a tiny cell with only a bucket for his excrement, he would still not give up his fight for a free Cuba.

One year I read a poem by Yang Tongyan. This poet and writer was convicted in China of posting anti-government articles on the Internet and advocating a “Democratic China.” Yang Tongyan had written to me from his prison cell. Here’s one verse I remember:

The electrical fence and high wall
Quietly guard around it against all—
The wilderness, far mountain and cloudy sky,
In a prisoner’s heart the constant universes lie.


I dwell more on the failures than the successes. Of the 36 prizes we have given, 32 have been released from prison largely because of the publicity surrounding the award. The stipend is modest, but the results, spectacular.

Years ago, it used to be that I’d get a call at two o’clock in the morning asking me to contact some diplomat or person of a high influence. In the past few years, there’s been no sleep interruption that way, but only the interrupted sleep in my own head because of the cumulative burden of all these fighters for the freedom of the word. The PEN Freedom to Write Committee handles a thousand cases a year but only spotlights one. Until 2007 we always spotlighted two cases, but PEN found that too confusing and so now each year there is just that one person who receives the award. But, I always think of the second ungiven prize, the one for someone we couldn’t get out. I lay awake thinking about strategies for the ones that still need PEN’s involvement.

Larry Siems is the powerhouse behind this effort. He, and the people who work with him, organize conferences, protests, appeals etc. There is not one detail that slips by him, or the cases to which he devotes his full attention. Without Larry, I believe, there would be no organized effort to free these writers. Now we’ve managed to involve other organizations that have joined in helping choose the winner of this award. But still at night, often at the same hour that the phone used to ring, the names and faces start a nocturnal vigil making sleep impossible. Keep the spotlight on, I tell myself. It’s working.




PEN/​​BARBARA GOLDSMITH FREEDOM TO WRITE AWARD
The PEN/​​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards are a powerful tool in PEN American Center's year-round efforts to end the persecution of individual writers. The awards are designed to honor writers who have fought courageously in the face of adversity for the right to freedom of expression. Established in 1987, and underwritten by PEN member Barbara Goldsmith, the awards have been granted to a total of 42 writers who have either used the money to set up new and innovative projects to further their work against censorship or to writers who have been in dire financial straits as a result of political persecution, often consisting of imprisonment.



2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write award winner Eskinder Nega accepting the award in his prison cell.

2012 PEN/​BARBARA GOLDSMITH FREEDOM TO WRITE AWARD WINNER

Eskinder Nega
ETHIOPIA


Professional and Personal Background

Eskinder Nega is a journalist and dissident blogger. He published weekly columns on the U.S.-based news forum EthioMedia and was a columnist for the now-banned monthly magazine Change. He has been critical of the government and continues to demand an end to political corruption and repression despite ongoing harassment and the denial of a license to practice journalism.

Case History

Eskinder Nega was arrested on terrorism charges on September 14, 2011, after he published a column questioning the plausibility of journalists as terror suspects, calling for freedom of expression, and criticizing the arrest of well-known Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu on terror charges earlier that week. Shortly after his arrest, Nega was accused of affiliation with the banned political party Ginbot 7 and state television portrayed him and other political prisoners as “spies for foreign forces.” He appeared before a court on September 15, 2011, and was remanded into custody until October 12 to allow police to carry out their investigations. He was held at Maekelawi Prison in Addis Ababa, where there are concerns of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

In November, government spokesman Shimeles Kemal said that Eskinder is being accused of receiving weapons and explosives from neighboring Eritrea in order to carry out terrorist attacks in Ethiopia.

On January 24, 2012, Judge Endeshaw Adane of the third criminal bench of the Lideta Federal High Court reviewed the evidence against Nega and upheld all six original charges against him.

Nega had previously been detained at least seven times under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government. In February 2011, he was briefly detained for “attempts to incite Egyptian and Tunisian-like protests in Ethiopia.” In 2005, Nega and his wife Serkalim Fasil were jailed for 17 months for their critical reporting on the protests following Ethiopia’s disputed 2005 elections, during which the government arrested and opened fire on protestors. Their newspapers were shut down and not allowed to reopen.

Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law, which criminalizes any reporting deemed to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to groups and causes which the government considers to be “terrorist,” has been widely criticized as being vaguely worded and catch-all. In addition to Nega, a number of other journalists have also been charged and sentenced under the anti-terrorism legislation, including Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, and Elias Kifle.

Current Status

Eskinder Nega’s trial on terrorism charges began on March 6, 2012. On March 28, Nega gave a 20-minute statement denying all charges against him. He admitted to reporting on the Arab Spring and speculating on whether a similar movement would take place in Ethiopia, but he denied conspiring to overthrow the government through violence.

Nega is being charged for his legitimate work as a journalist under Article 4 of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which covers the “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt” of terrorist acts.

The prosecution’s evidence against Nega and 23 other defendants consisted of nearly inaudible recordings of telephone conversations and other comments. Prominent opposition politician and co-defendant Andualem Aragie and the chief defense witness, former Ethiopian president Negasso Gidada, both testified that the defendants were not advocating change through violence or terrorism. Nega’s wife, Serkalim Fasil, maintained that Nega is “a journalist, not a member of a political party.”

April 28, 2011:
Jailed Iranian Writer and Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh Honored in New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information contact:
Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, (646) 359-0594 (cell)
Sarah Hoffman, (212) 334-1660 ext. 111, (201) 874-9849 (cell)


New York City, April 28, 2011—Salman Rushdie, E. L. Doctorow, Michael Ondaatje, and Jhumpa Lahiri were among the more than 570 PEN luminaries and supporters joining PEN American Center last night in honoring Nasrin Sotoudeh, one of Iran’s most courageous lawyers who is serving an 11-year prison sentence, with the 2011 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award at its annual Literary Gala at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi accepted the award on Sotoudeh’s behalf, calling her “a symbol of the free women of Iran.”

While the award presentation highlighted the ongoing suppression of freedom of expression in Iran and the country’s role in the uprisings in the region, the focus was on Nasrin Sotoudeh herself, a rights lawyer who has also worked as a journalist. She was praised repeatedly throughout the evening as an example of courage in the face of severe restrictions and disregard for the rule of law. Barbara Goldsmith, founder and patron of the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, read a letter from Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, which arrived mere hours before the ceremony. In it, he described her conditions in prison, noting that on March 17, 2011, prison officials confiscated her only writing instrument. Khandan said that now, according to the current court’s sentence, “she will be without a pen for nearly 4000 days.”

“We will honor and record the day of March 17, 2011, in our history, so that our children will remember the dedication and sacrifice of all those around the world for the freedom to write,” Khandan concluded.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is 47 and the mother of two young children, began her activism in 1991 as the only female writer for the Nationalist-religious publication Daricheh Goftegoo; one of her first projects was to prepare a series of interviews, reports, and articles on Iranian women to mark International Women’s Day, all of which her editor refused to run. After completing her Master’s Degree in International Law at Shahid Behshti University, Sotoudeh passed the bar exam in 1995 but was not permitted to practice law for another eight years, and so she concentrated on journalism instead, writing for several reformist newspapers, including Jame’e. When she was finally granted a law license in 2003, she specialized in women’s and children’s rights while continuing to write articles addressing these issues. Her clients have included women’s rights activists, among them the organizers of the grassroots, door-to-door One Million Signatures Campaign; journalists such as Isa Sharkhiz; political activists such as Hashmat Tabarzadi, head of Iran’s banned opposition group the Democratic Front; and Shirin Ebadi herself. She has also represented prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were minors and many Iranian opposition activists arrested in the crackdown following the June 12, 2009 presidential elections.

On August 29, 2010, security officers raided Sotoudeh’s home and office, confiscating several of her files and documents. Authorities also froze her assets. On September 4, 2010, she was summoned to the special court in Evin prison and arrested on charges of “spreading lies against the state,” “cooperating with the Center for Human Rights Defenders,” and “conspiracy to disturb order.” She was denied access to her lawyer and was restricted family visits for the first several months of her detention.

On January 9, 2011, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Sotoudeh to a total of 11 years in prison— one year for “spreading lies against the regime,” five years for “acting against national security,” and another five years for “cooperating with the Center for Human Rights Defenders.” The court also banned her from practicing law and from traveling outside the country for 20 years, a term that begins after her release from prison and that for all intents and purposes confines her to Iran and bars her from her profession for life.

Sotoudeh has gone on several hunger strikes since her arrest, refusing even water during one 11-day stretch, to protest her detention and ill-treatment inside Evin Prison. She has reportedly lost a considerable amount of weight and is in poor health. She is being held in Ward 209 of Evin Prison, where she has spent much of the time in solitary confinement. Sotoudeh has dropped her appeal after being told that the verdict would be upheld, and has threatened to go on yet another hunger strike.

On the eve of the award presentation, PEN American Center sent a letter to Iranian authorities, expressing its concern for Sotoudeh’s well-being in prison and promising a steady stream of advocacy on her behalf, stating “We…wish to remind you that in this time where governments are increasingly being held to account for the way in which they treat their own citizens, the world is watching her case closely.

In accepting the award on Sotoudeh’s behalf, Shirin Ebadi recounted Sotoudeh’s legal ordeal and paid tribute to her husband and two small children. “My dear colleague was very eager to send her personal message tonight. However, in prison, she is even deprived of prisoners’ rights. She is being treated worse than a murderer and could not send her message,” she said.

“In light of the above I proudly accept the prize on her behalf and thank all of those who respect freedom of expression, not only in their own country, but all over the world,” Ebadi concluded.

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit www.pen.org




The PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Prize really got the ball rolling. The next step is to free Liu Xiaobo, but now we know he will certainly not disappear or be maltreated. We are there for him. His NOBEL PRIZE is cause for great celebration. - Barbara Goldsmith

PEN’s Own Liu Xiaobo, Imprisoned Chinese Writer, Wins Nobel Peace Prize


New York City, October 8, 2010—PEN American Center today celebrated the news that Chinese colleague Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic, writer, and political activist who is serving an 11-year sentence in a Chinese prison, is the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. PEN President Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, nominated Liu for the award in January of this year.

“We are absolutely delighted that Liu Xiaobo, our PEN colleague and a nominee who has the support of PEN members in many nations, has been honored with the Nobel Peace Prize,” Appiah said today. “We hope the Chinese authorities receive this wise decision by the Nobel Committee as the rest of the world will receive it—as recognition of the power of its citizens to guide and shape their future in a peaceful way. We ask the citizens and leaders of every nation to join us in urging the Chinese government to honor the award’s spirit by setting him and all his imprisoned colleagues free.”

“PEN has always stood not only for free expression but also for cultural exchange across nations,” Appiah continued. “We believe we all have a great deal to gain from hearing from China. A China with greater free expression will not only be better for the Chinese, it will allow her citizens—and her government—a louder, stronger voice in the community of nations.”

Liu Xiaobo was arrested on December 8, 2008, on the eve of the release of Charter 08, a groundbreaking declaration he co-authored calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China. The document has gained over 10,000 signatures from citizens across China. Liu was held nearly incommunicado at an undisclosed location outside Beijing for over six months before he was formally charged with “inciting subversion of state power.” He was tried in a closed court on December 23, 2009, and on December 25, was convicted of the charge, based on Charter 08 and six essays he authored, and sentenced to 11 years in prison—the longest sentence ever given on this particular charge. Liu’s appeal was rejected in February, and on May 24, 2010, was transferred to Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning Province, hundreds of miles from his home in Beijing. His wife, Liu Xia, is only permitted to visit him once a month.

In 1989, Liu staged a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square in support of the student demonstrators and led calls for a truly broad-based, sustainable democratic movement. He was instrumental in preventing even further bloodshed in the Square by supporting and advancing a call for non-violence on the part of the students. He spent nearly two years in prison for his role, and another three years of “reeducation through labor” in 1996 for publicly questioning the role of the single-party system and calling for dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama of Tibet. In 2004, his phone lines and Internet connection were cut after the release of his essay criticizing the use of “subversion” charges used to silence journalists and activists, and he has been the target of regular police surveillance and harassment in the years since.

Liu Xiaobo is also the recipient of the 2009 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, which honors international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression.

At least 45 writers are currently in prison in China for their writings. Four of them, including Liu Xiaobo, are members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC), which is composed of 300 writers living inside and outside of China; Liu helped found the center and is a past president and board member. Since ICPC was formed in 2001, it has had meetings interrupted and canceled by authorities, its officers and members are regularly surveilled, and several have been detained and questioned about the center’s activities. As ICPC has emerged as an important voice for freedom of expression in China, it has come under increased pressure in the last three years.

During that time, PEN American Center has led an international campaign to free writers and increase protections for freedom of expression in China, highlighted by a New Year’s Eve rally for Liu Xiaobo’s release following his conviction that featured leading American writers, as well as Appiah’s nomination of Liu for the Nobel Peace Prize. Appiah said today that the news that Liu has received the prize will also serve to inspire PEN’s work for freedom of expression worldwide.

“In a letter passed to his lawyers after his sentencing last December, Liu Xiaobo said, ‘For an intellectual thirsty for freedom in a dictatorial country, prison is the very first threshold. Now I have stepped over the threshold, and freedom is near,’” Appiah recalled. “It is through the sacrifice of writers like Liu Xiaobo that freedom of expression gains ground. And it is through international solidarity, represented best by the Nobel Peace Prize, that those who make these crucial sacrifices are sustained and freed.”

Addressing Liu Xiaobo directly, Appiah added, “We will not stop fighting for you, my friend, until you are released.”

For Kwame Anthony Appiah’s nomination letter and more information on Liu Xiaobo, please visit http:/​/​www.pen.org/​nobel

Mr. Appiah and other PEN Members are available for interviews.

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center, which works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled, has been working to end China’s imprisonment, harassment, and surveillance of writers and journalists and curtail Internet censorship and other restrictions on the freedom to write in that country. For more information, please visit www.pen.org/​china

PEN/​BARBARA GOLDSMITH FREEDOM TO WRITE AWARD WINNER FREED!

What a week! Every year I give a PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write award. The purpose of this award is to make sure that prisoners of conscience, who have done nothing more than express their opinions, are not tortured, do not disappear, and are released from jail. Years ago I thought if we could turn a spotlight on these unfortunate souls that we would see that they were freed. It worked! Thirty-two of the thirty-four prize-winners were released from jail after receiving this award. However, among the hardest of our cases was a young man named Normando Hernández González only 40 years old. He has endured seven years of prison in Cuba under the worst possible circumstances. He is now gravely ill. On July 10th Normando was finally released, seeing his baby daughter for the first time in years and finding asylum in Spain where he was picked up at the airport and taken to a hospital.

I used to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about Normando and wondering what I or PEN could do, other than utilize PEN’s 147 branches, to turn the spotlight on this terrible abuse. What great news this week has brought. I always say when I present my award, “Keep the spotlight on.” We did and thanks in large part to the Cuban clergy over 50 other Cuban prisoners of conscience will probably go free in the near future. I’ll keep you posted.

BARBARA GOLDSMITH PEN/​BARBARA GOLDSMITH AWARD REMARKS

For over two decades, I have felt that the Freedom to Write program is the heart of PEN. By that I mean it stands for all that is noble in this organization, the international quest for freedom of expression and for truth, as the writer sees it, no matter how controversial. However, in many countries, too many, imprisonment, torture, disappearance, death can be the price of free expression. The Freedom to Write Award was conceived in 1987 in order to focus worldwide media attention on the condition of persecuted writers. Newspapers, television, periodicals, letters, all these and more keep a brilliant spotlight trained on the winners. Oppression often cannot stand the light.

PEN itself has long been recognized as one of the most effective human rights organizations in the world, representing over 15,000 members from 144 PEN centers who take a pledge “to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression” in the country and community to which they belong. The Freedom to Write committee is but one of our many efforts. PEN organizes missions to countries in political transition to protect free expression and to promote literary culture. We hold diplomatic meetings and briefings with policymakers here and abroad. Our public forums and events, such as the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, encourage debate and raise free expression issues. Ever diligent on the home front through our Committee for Core Freedoms, we orchestrate campaigns to challenge book bannings and other attempts to limit access to or censor literature and information within the United States.

Unfortunately, in the past few years, PEN’s Freedom to Write program has observed a disturbing jump in violations of freedom of expression worldwide. Some of these violations have occurred in countries at or near the center of international attention, or in countries that play supporting roles in current events, but many of these have occurred in countries where repressive regimes, local officials, or non-state agents recognize, in the distraction of world events, a renewed opportunity to silence those voices that would challenge or expose them. In such times, the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award may be the only thing that keeps the condition of individuals who struggle for freedom to write in the public eye. When their plight is spotlighted, governments are often finally persuaded to end this repression.

Tonight’s presentation of the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award marks the 24th time we have singled out deserving winners to represent more than a thousand writers in 100 countries that PEN has made every effort to protect in this year alone. Of the 35 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award recipients who were in jail when they received our award, an astonishing 31 have since been released, many within a few months of this award presentation.

This year’s PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Award recipient, 29-year old Burmese blogger Nay Phone Latt, represents Burma’s youth: he was sentenced to 12 years for using technology and writing in his online blog, which was widely read inside and outside of his country. His work illustrates the frustrations of Burma’s present, and its hopes for its future. His medium has become one of the great battlegrounds of freedom of expression. We seek to call attention to Nay Phone Latt’s plight in a critical year for Burma, a country with a dismal recent history of censorship and the suppression of writers of conscience. The world will be watching as Burma conducts its first elections since 1988, and we will make sure they know about Nay Phone Latt and his other imprisoned colleagues.

Among our most valued assets is the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Advisory board. This board is comprised of some of the most illustrious and knowledgeable of human rights advocates: Carroll Bogert, Communications Director of Human Rights Watch; Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation; Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Vice-President of International PEN; Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute; and Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. We thank them for volunteering their expertise, time, and attention to these crucial choices.

Also, we thank the hardworking professional writers who volunteer their time, their voices, and yes, their pens to serve on PEN’s Freedom to Write committee. This award is only a symbol of what this vital committee does: Through a combined strategy of immediate action and ongoing efforts we work for freedom of expression; through our media campaigns, online and written appeals, public protests, and press releases; through communication with public officials and colleague organizations, we move forward.

These are the bare bones of our efforts. PEN’s ongoing projects continue to fight injustice and to reinforce tolerance. We work hard and long and see more results than heartbreak. We must keep the spotlight on!

Barbara Goldsmith


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information contact:
Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105 (office), (646) 359-0594 (mobile)
Sarah Hoffman, (212) 334, 1660 ext. 111


New York City, April 28, 2010—Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Bill Moyers, Walter Mosley, and Patti Smith were among the more than 500 PEN luminaries and supporters joining PEN American Center last night in honoring Nay Phone Latt, one of Burma’s leading bloggers, with the 2010 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award at its annual Literary Gala at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Speaking directly to the 29-year-old writer and activist, who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence in Myanmar, in a short film highlighting his ordeal, PEN American Center President Kwame Anthony Appiah assured Nay Phone Latt that “This voice from America is one of the voices of a global community of writers who know about you, care about you, who are thinking about you. So do not lose faith. We’re here for you, and we won’t forget you.”

While the award presentation highlighted the ongoing suppression of freedom of expression in Burma and the severe restrictions on online freedom in many countries of the world, the focus was on Nay Phone Latt himself, an Internet entrepreneur who is also a poet. He was praised repeatedly throughout the evening as an example of the strength of the creative spirit in the face of even the most severe repression. Barbara Goldsmith, founder and patron of the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, urged the world to join with PEN in pressing for Nay Phone Latt’s release in the run-up to planned national elections in Myanmar this year, and blogger and Daily Beast founder Tina Brown read a statement Nay Phone Latt managed to dispatch from his prison cell that said, “This award is dedicated to all writing hands which are tightly restricted by the unfairness and are strongly eager for the freedom to write, all over the world.”

A youth member of the National League for Democracy, the opposition party that will be shut down this year under new election laws in Myanmar, Nay Phone Latt’s popular blog offered both political commentary and poetry that expressed the frustrations and hopes of a generation eager to make its mark on society. The blog caught the attention of authorities during the 2007 monks’ protests, when it was praised by the BBC and other foreign media outlets for providing invaluable news regarding the military crackdown that followed the protests, and two Internet cafés he owned in Rangoon offered a growing number of young Burmese access to new media in a country with one of the world’s most rigid censorship regimes.

Nay Phone Latt was arrested in Rangoon on January 29, 2008, under section 5 (J) of the 1950 Emergency Provision Act, which criminalizes any attempt to “disrupt morality” or to “disrupt security, stability or the restoration of order.” After being held for over nine months, on November 10, 2008, he was sentenced by a specially-assembled court to a combined 20 years and six months in prison under the Criminal Code, the Video Act, and the Electronics Act for his blog and for owning a copy of a banned DVD. The court, formed to prosecute political dissidents within prison walls, was closed to the public, and Nay Phone Latt’s mother was banned from attending the hearing. Nay Phone Latt was not allowed legal representation after his lawyer was sentenced to prison time for contempt while protesting unfair hearings. The Electronics Act, which contains provisions establishing long prison terms for disseminating news that is considered to tarnish the image of the government, has been used increasingly to silence political voices since the protests in 2007.

On February 20, 2009, a court in Rangoon reduced Nay Phone Latt’s sentence by eight and a half years, leaving him to serve 12 years in prison. He is currently being held in Pa-an Prison in Karen state, 135 miles from his home in Rangoon, making it difficult for his family to visit.

On the eve of the award presentation, PEN American Center sent a letter to President Obama, urging the administration to place Nay Phone Latt’s case at the forefront of its current communications with Myanmar’s military rulers. “Nay Phone Latt’s blog called attention not only to the despotism of the ruling junta, but to Myanmar’s vibrant youth and creative culture; in it, we glimpse the promising future that could accompany an easing of restrictions on freedom of expression in his country,” PEN wrote. “As you pursue the dialogue with Myanmar’s military rulers, we urge you to use your influence at every available opportunity to raise Nay Phone Latt’s case, and to emphasize that his imprisonment and the imprisonment of so many others who have simply tried to participate in shaping their country’s future is both completely incompatible with free and fair elections and a significant obstacle to the improved relations it seeks.”

PEN repeated that call last night, and urged the world to join in pressing for Nay Phone Latt’s release. “That Nay Phone Latt is in jail for being a blogger reflects the global truth that Internet censorship is one of the great threats to free expression today. That he is also a poet reminds us that every society speaks with the voice of the imagination as well as through its non-fiction writers,” Appiah said. “We honor him. We thank him. We ask all who have any influence on the government of Burma to press for his release.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit www.pen.org


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 1, 2007
Normando Hernández González Honored by PEN/​
Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award

New York, NY, May 1, 2007—PEN American Center, the largest center of the international literary organization dedicated to defending freedom of expression around the globe, awarded Cuban writer and independent journalist Normando Hernández González the 2007 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards last night in a ceremony in New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Forty-two writers and journalists have received the award since it was established in 1987.

Mr. Hernández, who was arrested in March 2003 along with 74 other journalists and activists considered to be dissidents by the Cuban government, was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment under Article 91 of the Cuban Criminal Code. His mother, Blanca González, was present to receive the award on his behalf. Overwhelmed with emotion, she spoke in Spanish to Gala attendees before a translator read the following statement, which Mr. Hernández had dictated from prison last week:

The encouragement that I receive today serves to recognize the work of the independent Cuban writers and journalists, especially those who languish between walls of terror for exercising a right as noble as the right to write. I dedicate this Freedom to Write Award to all of them, my brothers in the cause, known as the 75, to those who withstand the torture of being locked up in Cuban prisons for their patriotism.

The award was presented at PEN American Center’s annual Gala, a dinner that brings together many of America’s leading writers to attract national and international attention to PEN’s work, and to domestic and international threats to Freedom of Expression. Speakers included Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press, Gala Chair Tina Brown and PEN president Francince Prose. Paul Auster, E.L. Doctorow, K. Anthony Appiah, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Adam Gopnik, Rick Moody, Salman Rushdie, and more than 50 other prominent American authors were joined by major international literary figures including Kiran Desai, David Grossman, and Ma Jian, some of the 85 international writers gathered in New York this past week for the PEN World Voices International Literary Festival.

PEN also presented the 2007 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award to the Independent Iranian publishing community, after the original Award candidate, a prominent independent book publisher in Iran, felt compelled to decline the prize for fear of government reprisal.

After the ceremony, PEN Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems emphasized that the evening’s awards marked the beginning, and not the end, of PEN’s advocacy on behalf of their recipients. “These awards serve an important purpose,” Siems said. “They help focus national and international press attention on people and on issues that PEN is working on day in and day out. In the case of Normando Hernández González, the award is a statement of grave concern for his health and a declaration that we believe he should be immediately freed. At the same time, PEN has been calling for the release of all who have been jailed in Cuba in violation of their universally guaranteed rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. We will continue the press for a free and open press in Cuba, using this award to amplify PEN’s concerns in the U.S. and around the world.”



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information contact: Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, lsiems@​pen.org

PEN Welcomes Release of Algerian Newspaper Publisher, Remains Concerned
over Continuing Restrictions on the Press

New York, New York, June 14, 2006:
PEN American Center welcomed today’s release of Mohammed Benchicou, a newspaper publisher whose paper’s independent reporting earned him a 2-year prison term in Algeria. Benchicou, who received one of two 2006 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards, was released this morning from El-Harrach Prison in Algiers and was met at the prison gate by his wife and many fellow journalists.

Mohammed Benchicou is the former director of Le Matin, a private daily newspaper that maintained an independent, critical editorial line toward the Algerian government. On June 14, 2004, he was sentenced to a two-year prison term and received a fine of 20m dinars (approx. US$280,000) after being found guilty of currency exchange violations, charges PEN believes served as a pretext to silence the newspaper in the run up to the presidential election. He served his term at El-Harrach Prison, where conditions are notoriously harsh and where he was denied medical attention throughout his imprisonment. Although he has now been freed, Mr. Benchicou reportedly has more than 50 additional cases pending against him in connection with Le Matin’s aggressive reporting.

Calling the release a positive development, Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems nonetheless underscored PEN’s concerns for press freedom in Algeria. “We are relieved that Mohammed Benchicou’s unjust imprisonment has ended, but we remain concerned for his health and are deeply troubled by the raft of outstanding charges against him—charges that are surely intended to restrict his ability to practice journalism and discourage others from similar independent reporting.”

“We ask that all pending charges against Mr. Benchicou be withdrawn so that he can immediately and fully resume his professional activities, and that his passport be returned so that he can travel freely.” Siems added.

The PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards honor international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression. Of the 31 who were in prison at the time they were honored, 29 have been subsequently released.





FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information contact: Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, lsiems@​pen.org

Jailed Algerian Newspaper Publisher, Banned Turkmen Novelist To Receive
2006 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards

New York, New York, March 15, 2006
— PEN American Center today named Mohammed Benchicou, a newspaper publisher already in prison and facing 50 additional sentences for his newspaper’s independent reporting, and Rakhim Esenov, a 78 year-old novelist, historian, and Radio Free Europe correspondent whose works are banned and who is barred from traveling outside the reclusive, repressive country of Turkmenistan, as recipients of its 2006 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards. The awards, which honor international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression, will be presented at PEN’s Annual Gala on April 18, 2006 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Distinguished writer, historian, and PEN Trustee Barbara Goldsmith underwrites the two awards. Candidates are nominated by International PEN and any of its 141 constituent PEN Centers around the world and screened by PEN American Center and an Advisory Board comprising some of the most distinguished experts in the field. The Advisory Board for the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards includes Carroll Bogert, Communications Director of Human Rights Watch; Ann Cooper, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation; Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, International Secretary of International PEN; and Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute.

Mohammed Benchicou is the former director of Le Matin, a private daily newspaper that maintained an independent, critical editorial line toward the Algerian government.

On August 23, 2003, Benchicou was apprehended by the police at Algiers airport on his return from France and charged with currency control violations in a move widely understood to be an attempt to silence Le Matin in the run-up to the 2004 Algerian presidential election. Benchicou’s arrest was reportedly ordered by the Algerian Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni, who Le Matin had accused in a 2003 article of involvement in torturing prisoners in the 1970s during his service as a military security commander. At a press conference in Djelfa in 2003, Zerhouni stated that Benchicou would “pay” for the accusation. Benchicou further angered officials in early 2004 when he published a satirical book about the Algerian president entitled Bouteflika, an Algerian Fraud. Benchicou is reportedly the first person ever to be imprisoned in Algeria for bringing money into the country in any form.

On June 14, 2004, Benchicou was sentenced to a two-year prison term and received a fine of 20m dinars (approx. US$280,000). The sentence was upheld on appeal on August 11, 2004, and Le Matin was closed down that same month. On April 20, 2005, Benchicou’s prison sentence was increased by five months as a result of two separate libel charges in connection with the publication of two articles in Le Matin. Benchicou has approximately 50 other cases pending against him and is reportedly taken to court once or twice a week for press charges dating back to 2002.

Conditions are harsh in El-Harrach Prison where Benchicou is being detained, with 50 prisoners to a cell and infestations of lice and cockroaches. Visiting is extremely restricted – Benchicou is able to see family members for 10 minutes per week. Benchicou’s wife reports that his health has deteriorated since his imprisonment and he is now seriously ill. He is suffering from arthritis and can no longer write with his right hand due to paralysis on the right side of his body. Despite numerous requests for necessary medical attention, Benchicou has not received medical care at any time during his imprisonment.

On February 23, 2004, novelist, historian, and Radio Free Europe/​Radio Liberty correspondent Rakhim Esenov was questioned by members of the Turkmen Ministry of National Security (MNB) as he returned to Turkmenistan from receiving medical treatment abroad. During his interrogation, Esenov suffered a stroke and was taken to the hospital. Two days later he was interrogated again, and on February 26, Esenov was formally arrested and moved to an MNB prison.

Esenov was initially accused of smuggling 800 copies of his banned novel Ventsenosny Skitalets (The Crowned Wanderer) into Turkmenistan from Russia. Esenov denied this, and on March 2, the charge was dropped. However, he was then charged with “inciting social, national and religious hatred using the mass media.” Esenov has indicated the charge refers to statements made by characters in The Crowned Wanderer, which is set in the 16th century Mogul Empire and centers on Bayram Khan, a poet, philosopher and army general who is said to have saved Turkmenistan from fragmentation. Publication of the novel was banned in Turkmenistan by President Saparmurad Niyazov, who publicly denounced it as “historically inaccurate” in 1997, apparently for correctly portraying Khan as a Shia rather than a Sunni Muslim. This offense carries a four-year prison sentence under Article 177, parts 1 and 2, of the Turkmen Criminal Code.

Esenov was also accused of failing to report details of a telephone conversation with former Turkmen Minister of Foreign Affairs Avdy Kuliev to the authorities. Kuliev, a key opposition figure and a staunch critic of the Niyazov regime, is currently living in exile in Moscow following a crackdown on the opposition in November 2002 that began after gunmen fired on Niyazov’s car in the capital, Ashgabat.

Esenov was finally released on March 9, 2004 after submitting a written guarantee to remain in Turkmenistan. However, the charges against him were not dropped, and the results of an investigation are still pending. He remains confined to the capital Ashgabat, has been ordered to cease working for RFE/​RL, and remains under surveillance. He is in dire need of medical attention that is not available in Turkmenistan, and is unable to travel to Moscow to receive the treatment he needs.

In announcing the awards today in New York, Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems praised both recipients for refusing to let their governments control their countries’ histories. “Mohammed Benchicou in his newspaper and Rakhim Esenov in his novels and his reporting have sacrificed their own freedoms to challenge the official version of events – Benchicou in Algeria, a country where human rights abuses persist and press freedoms are diminishing, and Esenov in Turkmenistan, a country whose citizens are almost completely cut off from the international community,” said Siems. “PEN is proud to honor these two brave, defiant colleagues.”

Siems also expressed his hope that the award would speed Mohammed Benchicou’s release and result in the restoration of Rakhim Esenov’s right to move about freely. “We are hoping that these awards will add to the international pressure on the government of Algeria to reverse Mohammed Benchicou’s conviction,” Siems added. “And we call upon the government of Turkmenistan to allow Rakhim Esenov to travel to New York to receive the award, and afterwards to receive the necessary medical treatment.”

This is the 20th year that the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards have honored international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression. The awards are an extension of PEN’s year-round advocacy on behalf of the more than 1,010 writers and journalists who are currently threatened or in prison. Thirty-seven women and men have received the award since 1987; 28 of the 30 honorees who were in prison at the time they were honored were subsequently released.



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information contact: Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, lsiems@​pen.org


PEN Hails Release of Saudi Reformers


New York, New York, August 8, 2005: PEN American Center hailed the release today of Ali Al-Domaini, a leading Saudi literary figure who was one of three prominent intellectuals imprisoned for criticizing the pace and reach of human rights reforms in Saudi Arabia. Al-Domaini was one of two recipients of PEN’s 2005 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards. These honor international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression.

Ali Al-Domaini was among thirteen leading intellectuals and peaceful reform advocates who were arrested in March of 2004 for expressing dissatisfaction with the composition of a new government human rights organization and announcing their intentions to set up an independent human rights monitor. Ten of the thirteen were released after signing affidavits renouncing their political activism. In May, Al-Domaini was sentenced to 9 years in prison while two co-defendants, Abdullah al-Hamed and Matruk al-Faleh, received 7 and 6 year prison terms respectively. The three were convicted of "stirring up sedition and disobeying the ruler."

Newly Crowned King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a royal pardon on August 8th releasing Al-Domaini, al-Hamed, Al- Faleh, one of their lawyers and a religious scholar. They are to be released from jail shortly.

"This is a very promising development," said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. "But more important than the pardon itself -- which after all comes in a case where no crime was committed -- is whether Ali Al-Domaini and his colleagues will be allowed toenjoy freedom of assembly and freedom of speech going forward.We will of course be watching this story closely, and very much hope today's news signals real improvements in the climate for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia."



A poem by Al-Domaini, a 2005 recepient of the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award

"Archive"

As happens in death,
Whenever you take your leave
The mercy of archives and memories
Erupt in a flood –
And my photograph
Is covered
By the shadows of newspapers.


Let us be part of that flood engulfing all who strive for free expression.
-- Barbara Goldsmith



Jailed Saudi Author, Murdered Gambian Newspaper Publisher To Receive 2005 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards

New York, New York, April 4, 2005—PEN American Center today named Ali Al-Domaini, a leading Saudi literary figure who is one of three prominent intellectuals currently imprisoned for criticizing the pace and reach of human rights reforms in Saudi Arabia, and Deyda Hydara, a newspaper publisher and press freedom champion who was gunned down in December 2004 for challenging increasingly restrictive press laws in the Gambia, as recipients of its 2005 PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards. The awards, which honor international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression, will be presented at PEN’s Annual Gala on April 20, 2005 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Distinguished writer, historian, and PEN Trustee Barbara Goldsmith underwrites the two awards. Candidates are nominated by International PEN and any of its 141 constituent PEN Centers around the world and screened by PEN American Center and an Advisory Board comprising some of the most distinguished experts in the field. The Advisory Board for the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards includes Carroll Bogert, Communications Director of Human Rights Watch; Ann Cooper, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation; Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, International Secretary of International PEN; and Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute.

Ali Al-Domaini is a prominent writer whose works include three collections of poetry and a novel. On March 15, 2004, he and eleven other leading Saudi intellectuals were arrested for criticizing the newly-established National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) and for planning to set up their own human rights organization.

The official approval of the National Commission on Human Rights, the kingdom’s first human rights watchdog, followed a year in which the government announced that country’s first municipal elections and political activism visibly increased. In 2003, groups of citizens submitted petitions to the Crown Prince criticizing the pace of reforms, calling attention to discrimination against Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority, advocating the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, and calling for greater rights for women. But the detentions appear to have sent a chill through civil society. As the U.S. State Department noted in its 2004 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, “after the March arrest of the reformers, there were no further petitions.”

Shortly after the arrests, a Ministry of the Interior official reportedly announced that the twelve jailed for criticizing the NCHR were suspected of issuing “statements which do not serve the unity of the country and the cohesion of society… based on Islamic religion.” Eight of the detainees were subsequently released, but Al-Domaini and two other leading intellectuals remained in prison and were charged, reportedly after refusing to sign a document renouncing their political activism. Al-Domaini is accused by the authorities of threatening national unity, doubting the independence of the Saudi judiciary, organizing meetings and justifying violence, among other charges.

The trial of Ali Al-Domaini, which is believed to be the first public political trial in Saudi history, opened on August 9, 2004 at an Islamic court in Riyadh. The proceedings were reportedly adjourned in early October 2004 because the three defendants refused to answer questions in a closed hearing. With no date scheduled for the resumption of the trail, Al-Domaini remains in detention, and was not allowed to see his dying father, who passed away in October.
On November 9, 2004, the attorney representing Dr. Matrook Al-Faleh, one of Ali Al-Domaini’s co-defendants, was arrested for making a public petition to Crown Prince Abdullah demanding a fair trial for Al Faleh, Abdallah Al-Hamed, and Ali Al-Domaini.

On December 16, 2004, journalist and newspaper publisher Deyda Hydara was shot in the head and chest by unidentified gunmen. He died instantly. The shooting occurred two days after the Gambian National Assembly passed a new round of repressive media legislation that imposed mandatory prison terms for any published work judged to be “seditious” or “libelous” and included prison terms of at least six months for first time infractions and three years for repeat offenders. The bill also increased the scope of what might be deemed libelous. Hydara and other independent journalists had publicly opposed the law and Hydara had published an editorial denouncing it the day before he was killed.

Hydara began his career in journalism in 1974, when Agence France-Presse hired him as a translator and then as a local correspondent. In 1991 he co-founded The Point, a tabloid that appears three times a week, with his friend of 35 years, Pap Saine. When The Point first appeared, it was the only newspaper of its kind, offering independent news and powerful editorials voicing opposition to successive regimes in the Gambia. As the senior independent journalist in the Gambia, he also served as a mentor for many of Gambia’s young reporters.

Hydara's murder comes amid an alarming crackdown by Gambian authorities on the independent press. In July 2002 the government passed legislation requiring journalists and media organizations to register with a media commission for one-year renewable licenses. In September 2003, Hydara and three other independent journalists filed a lawsuit challenging the law in a case that is still pending before the Supreme Court of the Gambia. Since then, a group with links to the ruling party known as the Green Boys has issued numerous threats against the co-plaintiffs in the suit and a number of independent journalists, and several have suffered harassment, physical assaults, and arson attacks.

In February 2005, Gambian authorities arrested a Lebanese businessman in connection with the killing of Deyda Hydara, but colleagues continue to call for an investigation of the Green Boys and the many recent attacks on independent journalists. Meanwhile, the murder of Deyda Hydara has cast a long shadow over the independent press in the Gambia, and a number of journalists have reportedly fled the country.

Deyda Hydara was working to establish a new PEN center in the Gambia at the time he was murdered.

In announcing the awards today in New York, Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems noted the important role that writers are playing in protecting essential rights and building civil societies in countries around the world – and the tremendous sacrifice their efforts often entail. “The eyes of the world are on the Middle East now, and on encouraging signs that opportunities are expanding for citizens to express their views and participate in political activiteies in several countries in the region. These developments owe a great deal to individuals like Ali Al-Domaini, intellectual leaders who have openly and peacefully advocated reform at considerable personal risk. The fact that Ali Al-Domaini remains in jail over a year after his arrest is an indication that the struggle to ensure essential rights including freedom of expression may still be in its early stages.”

“At the same time, the assassination of Deyda Hydara in the Gambia reminds us that the drive to build strong civil societies in which a free exchange of ideas is valued and protected continues out of the limelight of international attention as well, and that for our colleagues in such places conditions can be even more perilous. Deyda Hydara was one of a small group of incredibly brave newspaper publishers who have refused to go quietly into the noose of increasingly draconion press laws in the Gambia. He paid with his life. Now the cause of press freedom his country includes bringing his killers to justice.”

This is the 19th year that the PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards have honored international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression. The awards are an extension of PEN’s year-round advocacy on behalf of the more than 1,150 writers and journalists who are currently threatened or in prison. Thirty-seven women and men have received the award since 1987; 27 of the 29 honorees who were in prison at the time they were honored were subsequently released.



PEN/​BARBARA GOLDSMITH FREEDOM TO WRITE AWARD
The PEN/​Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards are a powerful tool in PEN American Center's year-round efforts to end the persecution of individual writers. The awards are designed to honor writers who have fought courageously in the face of adversity for the right to freedom of expression. Established in 1987, and underwritten by PEN member Barbara Goldsmith, the awards have been granted to a total of 42 writers who have either used the money to set up new and innovative projects to further their work against censorship or to writers who have been in dire financial straits as a result of political persecution, often consisting of imprisonment.


PAST RECIPIENTS

2005
Deyda Hydara, Gambia

A newspaper publisher and press freedom champion who was gunned down in December 2004 for challenging increasingly restrictive press laws in the Gambia. The shooting occurred two days after the Gambian National Assembly passed a new round of repressive media legislation that imposed mandatory prison terms for any published work judged to be “seditious” or “libelous” and included prison terms of at least six months for first time infractions and three years for repeat offenders. The bill also increased the scope of what might be deemed libelous. Hydara and other independent journalists had publicly opposed the law and Hydara had published an editorial denouncing it the day before he was killed.

Ali Al-Domaini, Saudi Arabia
A leading Saudi literary figure whose works include three collections of poetry and a novel. On March 15, 2004, he and eleven other leading Saudi intellectuals were arrested for criticizing the newly-established National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) and for planning to set up their own human rights organization. Eight of the detainees were subsequently released, but Al-Domaini and two other leading intellectuals remained in prison and were charged, reportedly after refusing to sign a document renouncing their political activism. Al-Domaini is accused by the authorities of threatening national unity, doubting the independence of the Saudi judiciary, organizing meetings and justifying violence, among other charges.


2004
Nasser Zarafshan, Iran

Author, translator, and attorney sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and 70 lashes for his criticism of the official investigation carried out into the murders of five Iranian intellectuals and writers in 1998 in what came to be known in Iran as the 'serial murders.' Zarafshan has reportedly appealed to the Supreme Court and is currently awaiting a decision. He is also reportedly undergoing medical examinations to ascertain whether he is healthy enough to face the flogging sentence.

Lê Chi Quang, Vietnam
A lawyer and computer teacher whose essay Beware of Imperialist China was distributed on the Internet. He was arrested at an Internet café in Hanoi and sentenced to four years in prison and three years of house arrest after a half-day closed trial on charges of disseminating propaganda against the state. He suffers from serious kidney dysfunction, and there is concern that he has not been allowed to receive an appropriate diagnosis of his condition and effective medical treatment. He and another prisoner reportedly share a squalid six-square-meter cell.


2003
Zouhair Yahyaoui, Tunisia

Founded Internet magazine TUNeZINE.com shortly after graduating from college to disseminate information on the struggle for democracy in Tunisia and publish opposition material. Shortly after TUNeZINE invited readers to vote on whether Tunisia was "a republic, a kingdom, a zoo, or a prison," Yahyaoui was arrested and subsequently tried and sentenced to twenty-eight months in prison for "propagation of false news," "non-authorized usage of an Internet connection" and "theft from an employer." On appeal, his sentence was reduced to 24 months. Yahyaoui has gone on several hunger strikes since his imprisonment to protest the appalling prison conditions and ill treatment he has suffered.

Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, Cuba
An independent journalist imprisoned since 1997 in connection with his independent news reporting, he was transferred in July from a labor camp to maximum security Ariza Prison. Arévalo Padrón remains in jail despite being eligible for parole since October 2000. Authorities maintain that he has not been sufficiently "politically re-educated." He has vowed to continue his journalistic work even behind bars by reporting news of prison conditions.


2002
Aung Myint, Myanmar (Burma)

Journalist, poet, and head of the information department of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung Myint was first arrest in 1997 for his activities with the NLD. After spending two years in prison, he became the head of the NLD's information department in Rangoon. On September 14, 2000 Aung and his assistant Kyaw Sein Oo were arrested by members of Unit 14 of the Military Intelligence Service for distributing information regarding repression of the NLD to international press agencies and to Western diplomats based in Rangoon. Aung was charged with violating the State Protection and Emergency Provision Acts and sentenced by a military court on December 20, 2000 to 21 years' imprisonment. Four other NLD members were tried by the military court and sentenced the same day to heavy prison terms. Aung Myint is currently serving his sentence in Insein prison.

Tohti Tunyaz, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China
Ethnic Uighur historian and writer, Tohti Tunyaz was first arrested on February 6, 1998, a few weeks into a trip to Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region for research purposes. His only proven "crime" appears to be that of obtaining and copying part of a 50-year-old document for his research with the help of an official librarian, which the authorities claimed was "theft of classified information." Tohti was charged on November 10, 1998 with "inciting national disunity" and "stealing state secrets for foreign persons" (later amended by the Supreme Court to "illegally acquiring state secrets"). He was convicted by the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court on March 10, 1999, and following an appeal, was sentenced by China's Supreme Court on February 15, 2000 to 11 years in prison with an additional two years' deprivation of political rights for "stealing state secrets" and "inciting national disunity." Tohti Tunyaz is currently serving his sentence in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Prison No. 3 in the provincial capital of Urumqi.


2001
Shahla Lahiji, Iran

The first woman to run a publishing house in Iran, Shahla Lahiji is one of 19 Iranian writers and intellectuals prosecuted in Tehran for participating in an academic and cultural conference in Berlin in April 2000. After returning to Iran, she was arrested and tried behind closed doors by the Islamic Revolutionary Court in October, convicted, and sentenced to three years and six months in prison for acting against national security by attending the conference, plus an additional six months for propaganda against the Islamic system for commenting on the dangers confronting writers in Iran. On February 27, 2002 Shahla Lahiji's sentence was reduced to six months' imprisonment, calculated as time served (two months' imprisonment) plus a 500,000 rial fine. She continues to reside and work in Tehran.

Mamadali Mahmudov, Uzbekistan
Renowned novelist and opposition activist Mamadali Mahmudov disappeared into the hands of agents of the Committee for National Security in Uzbekistan on February 19, 1999. After he "reappeared" in prison, he was charged with threatening the president and the constitutional order, allegedly in connection with a series of explosions in Tashkent. He was tried along with five other men solely on the basis that they had copies of the banned newspaper Erk in their possession; all six were reportedly tortured and forced to sign self-incriminating statements, and some were coerced to declare their guilt on a government-sponsored national television program. In August 1999, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Well-documented reports of torture have contributed to urgent fears for Mahmudov's health and safety in prison.


2000
Flora Brovina, Kosovo

Dr. Brovina is an ethnic Albanian poet and pediatrician. As founder and president of the League of Albanian Women in Kosovo, she was a key organizer of peaceful demonstrations protesting human rights abuses by Serbian authorities, and after the outbreak of the war, she chose to remain in Pristina to run a shelter for women and children. On April 22, 1999, Dr. Brovina was abducted from her house and held incommunicado for two weeks by masked paramilitaries acting for the Serbian government. As NATO ground forces entered Kosovo, she was among hundreds of detainees transferred to a prison in Serbia, and on December 9 a Serbian court in Nis convicted her of "terrorist acts" against the Yugoslav state during the NATO air campaign in Kosovo and sentenced her to 12 years in prison. She was released on November 2, 2000.

Xue Deyun, China
Poet and editor Xue Deyun, who writes under the pen name Ma Zhe, was arrested on January 26,1998, along with three other poets for creating and attempting to launch China Cultural Renaissance , a journal promoting literary freedom. While the three other poets were released later in 1998, Xue was convicted of "engaging in subversive activities," "disturbing the social order," and inciting to "overthrow the socialist system by rumor-mongering [or] slander." PEN believes that Xue received this harsh sentence because of his influence as a writer and leader in the Guizhou cultural revival, a movement calling for increased literary freedom in China. Xue Deyun was released on July 25, 2001 after Guizhou's High Court reduced his sentence on appeal. He is anHonorary Member of PEN American Center, as well as the Canadian, Ghanaian, and Norwegian PEN Centers.


1999
Faraj Ahmad Birqdar, Syria

Faraj Birqdar remained one of the longest-detained writers in the world. His work on behalf of free expression and non-violent political action led to his 1987 arrest on suspicion of membership in the Party for Communist Action. In 1993, he was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment after being held without charge or trial for over six years. He suffers from various health problems resulting from the brutal torture he has endured. An honorary member of American, English, Netherlands, and Slovak PEN Centers, Birqdar won the Hellman/​Hammett Free Expression Award in 1998. He was released on November 16, 2000 under a presidential amnesty.

Esber Yagmurdereli, Turkey
Blind playwright, poet, short story author, screenwriter, and lawyer, Esber Yagmurdereli has been in and out of prison since 1978. After 13 years, he was released in 1991 only to suffer ongoing persecution and frequent arrests for speaking out against the Turkish government's human rights abuses. An honorary member of Swedish, Slovak, Canadian, Czech, and San Miguel PEN Centers and now PEN American Center, Yagmurdereli has been incarcerated near Ankara since 1998. In addition to his distinguished literary and legal careers, he has also edited several magazines and political journals, including Yeni Eylem . He was released on January 18, 2001 after a review of his sentence under an amnesty announced in December 2000.


1998
Ogaga Ifowodo, Nigeria

Poet Ogaga Ifowodo was arrested around November 6, 1997 on his way home from the Commonwealth Summit in Edinburgh, where he and other activists appealed for stronger sanctions against General Abacha's government. From his arrest until April 1998, he was held in solitary confinement in a Nigerian prison, without access to his family, lawyers, or doctors. His arrest was not officially acknowledged, nor were any charges brought against him. After studying law in Benin and Lagos, Ifowodo wrote Annual Reports on Human Rights in Nigeria for the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) in 1992, 1993 and 1994; he also edited the publication Human Rights in Retreat , which chronicled the human rights violations by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. He coordinates the CLO International Campaign for Democracy in Nigeria and contributes regularly to the periodical Liberty . The recipient of the 1996 Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Award for Poetry, Ifowodo is author of two collections of poetry: Maroko's Blood and Red Rain ; his poems have been published in The Guardian ,Times Review ,Okike ,ANA Review ,Stand Magazine as well as in the anthology Voices From the Fringe (1989). Ifowodo is an honorary fellow at the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany, and an Honorary Member of PEN American Center and West German PEN.

Liu Jingsheng, China
Liu Jingsheng is serving a 15-year sentence in a Chinese prison for "counter-revolutionary propaganda" and leading a "counter-revolutionary group." Accused of distributing and producing the journal Freedom Forum , as well as pro-democracy leaflets and statements on China's human rights situation, Liu was arrested in 1992 and held until his trial two years later when he was sentenced to prison until May 2007. This was not the first time Liu was arrested for writing about freedom. He was first arrested and detained in 1979 together with Wei Jingsheng, with whom he co-edited and distributed the magazine Tansuo (Explorations) in the late 1970s. Jiu is an Honorary Member of PEN American Center and Netherlands PEN. He is married and has a daughter.


1997
Godwin Agbroko, Nigeria

Godwin is editor of The Week , one of Nigeria's most respected newspapers. A father of five, he was arressted and held briefly twice in 1995. On December 17, 1996, three members of Nigeria's State Security Service apprehended Agbroko at his office, then drove him away in a white Peugeot. His colleagues were unable to determine where Agbroko was being held, or whether he had been charged with any crime. They believe, however, that his arrest was linked to his outspoken criticism of Nigeria's military. All calls to police and security headquarters were met with flat denials that Agbroko was being detained. Finally, his colleagues learned that he was being held at the Military Intelligence Detention Center in Lagos, though there was no word on whether any charges had been filed against him. His wife managed to see him once, but he was subsequently denied visits from his family and lawyers. Within weeks after receiving the Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, Agbroko was released from prison.

Ayse Nur Zarakolu, Turkey
Founder of Turkey's Freedom to Publish Committee, Zarakolu is a political essayist and the director of Belge Publishing House, and the only woman publishing director in Turkey. Through repressive legislation, the government of her country silences any public discussion of taboo subjects such as minority rights or Turkey's military history. Zarakolu, whose stated aim is to "strike down all the taboos," publishes books on exactly these topics. She was sentenced in 1995 to two years in prison for having published a book on the 1915 genocide of Turkish Armenians by the Turkish army, which the government of Turkey denies to this day. While she has not yet been imprisoned for that charge, she faces prosecution on charges relating to other controversial Belge books, most notably Weapons Transfers and Violations of the Laws of War in Turkey , a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. She has already been fined more that $5,000. Zarakolu spent last fall behind bars for publishing a book on the Kurdish civil war. Ayse Nur Zarakolu died in hospital in Istanbul on January 28, 2002. She had been suffering from cancer.


1996
Ma Thida, Myanmar

In 1993, Ma Thida was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in Burma for "endangering public peace, having contact with illegal organizations, and distributing unlawful literature." The charges were based on her tireless work to promote democratic change. A campaign assistant to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate whose landslide victory in the 1990 elections was disregarded by the military government, Ma Thida has written many articles and stories about the damage done in her country by successive repressive regimes. She is also a qualified physician and the founder of a clinic for women. A prolific writer of fiction, she is author of The Sunflower and In the Shade of an Indian Almond Tree among other titles, most of which are banned in Burma. She is being held in solitary confinement at Rangoon's Insein Jail, where she contracted tuberculosis. She was released on February 12, 1999 "on humanitarian grounds."

Anonymous, Africa
The family of 1996's second recipient requested that he remain anonymous for his own safety. A writer and television producer from a country in Africa, he had been held without charge or trial for 14 months at the time the award was bestowed. His friends and colleagues believed that he had been arrested to prevent him from producing a television documentary series he was planning about democratic change on the African continent with a special segment about his home country. PEN had received reports it believed to be reliable indicating that he was subjected to severe beatings in the early days of his detention. He is married with two sons. His family used the award money to hire a local lawyer to challenge his detention, and he was released within three months of having received the award. He must, however, remain anonymous as he remains under constant police surveillance.


1995
San San Nwe, Myanmar

San San Nwe was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in Burma for "spreading information injurious to the state" and "giving one-sided views" to foreign reporters. The reason underlying her imprisonment is her active support for Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate whose party won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections but who is held under house arrest by the military government. San San Nwe is the author of Prison of Darkness , a novel, and many other works of fiction and nonfiction. She is due for release in 2004. Her daughter Myat Mo Mo Tun, who was imprisoned with her, was released in March 2000. San San Nwe was released on July 18, 2001.

Indamiro Restano Díaz, Cuba
Restano is a published poet and former vice president of the Association of Independent Journalists of Cuba. At the time the award was bestowed, he was serving a ten-year sentence for "rebellion" and preparing publications "aimed at inciting civil disobedience." The charges stemmed from his activities as founder and president of the Movement for Harmony, an opposition group that called for the release of all political prisoners and an end to Cuba's one-party system. Due for release in December 2001, he was being held in Combinado del Este prison in Havana. A few weeks after the announcement of the award, Restano was released. He came to the PEN office the following September and accepted the award, stressing that PEN's efforts had been instrumental in securing his release.


1994
Edip Polat, Turkey

Polat is a Kurdish writer and biologist and comes from southeastern Turkey. The author of five books about Kurdish concerns, he has been jailed three times in the past for advocating Kurdish causes and, in 1994, was serving an 18-month sentence on charges of producing "separatist propaganda" in his book We Made Each Dawn a Newroz (Newroz being the Kurdish New Year). That book, a work of nonfiction based on his experiences in a Turkish military prison between 1982 and 1985, chronicles the grim treatment meted out to inmates by their jailers. In January 1995, Polat was released from prison but is now on trial for charges related to his fifth book, The Kurds and Kurdistan in the Language of Science . He was released on remission on August 3, 1998 under regulations that allow conditional release of Penal Code prisoners after serving 40% of their sentences.

Doan Viet Hoat, Vietnam
Doan, from South Vietnam, received his Ph.D. in education from Florida State University and, on his return to Saigon, became vice-president of Van Hanh University, a Buddhist institution. After Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975, he was detained in a reeducation camp for 12 years. Upon his release, he founded Freedom Forum, the discussion group and newspaper of the same name which advocated free speech and the release of all political prisoners. Doan was arrested in 1990 for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government, and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in March 1993. The sentence later was changed to 15 years' imprisonment and five years' house arrest. He was released at the beginning of September 1998 as part of a large-scale prisoner amnesty to mark the country's September 2 Independence Day.


1993
Zoran Mutic, Bosnia

Mutic is a Bosnian Muslim of mixed race, and the translator into Serbian of several English-language books, including Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children : he was a prominent defender of Rushdie after the issuing of the death sentence against him in 1989. Mutic's works have been banned in Serbia and have frequently protested the rise of Serbian nationalism. He fled Sarajevo in 1992 just before the city came under siege and now lives in Ljubljana, where he is working on an exhibition about the war in Bosnia and editing a book of testimonies by Bosnian refugees.

Svetlana Slapsak, Serbia
Slapsak, a Serb from Belgrade, is the author of the hugely popular novel Leon and Leonine . In the late 1960s she was once beaten by the police because of her work with the outspoken student magazine Frontisterion . In the 1980s she defended many opposition activists who were harassed or imprisoned by the authorities and served as president of the Committee for the Liberty of Expression. Slapsak has written articles criticizing Serbian nationalism and decrying injustices perpetrated by Serbians. In one series of articles, she protested a law that punished Albanians in Kosovo for raping Serbian women more severely than Serbians who raped Albanians. In September 1991, she fled to Slovenia, where she has organized the women's anti-war group Silence Kills: Let Us Speak Up for Peace. Since receiving the award, she has been able to facilitate her application for Slovenian citizenship and has secured a visiting professorship for the 1994 Fall/​Spring term at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Nizar Nayouf, Syria
Nayouf is a writer, sociologist, and human rights activist who is serving a 10-year prison sentence with hard labor. Arrested in January 1991, on charges of "disseminating false information" in his work as information officer for the Committee for the Defense of Democratic Freedoms, he is alleged to have been tortured severely while in pretrial detention. Reportedly, he could not walk unaided at his trial the following year. Nayouf has written for the weekly Al-Huriyya and the literary magazine Al Thaqafa al Ma'arifa ; he was released from prison on May 6, 2001.


1992
Thiagarajah Selvanithy ("Selvi"), Sri Lanka

Selvi was a Tamil poet from Jaffna in Sri Lanka. A third-year student in Theater and Drama Arts in the University of Jaffna, Selvi was arrested by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers) on August 30, 1991. She was the founder of a feminist journal called Tholi and was a gifted young poet who in her work deplored the carnage brought about by the conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese. Selvi also produced two plays, one about dowry payments and the other about rape. The day before her abduction she was about to star in a play about the role of women in the Palestinian intifada . She was a prominent member of "Poorani Illam," a women's center in Jaffna, which gives support to women traumatized by bombing raids and bereavement. Selvi was born into a peasant family in Semamadu, a village about 80 miles south of Jaffna. In 1997, LTTE sources acknowledged that she was executed.

Jean Mario Paul, Haiti
Journalist and Radio correspondent, Paul is a native of Petit Gôave, 20 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, Paul was well-known for his stories broadcast on Radio Antilles exposing local official corruption. He also wrote as a political analyst for two newspapers- Petit Gôave Info and May Nan May , a Catholic journal. In the wake of the coup which ousted President Aristide, his home and that of his mother's were burnt down. On November 9, 1991, Paul was arrested while covering a demonstration in Grand Gôave and was charged with setting fire to a court house and police station and with possession of firearms. Paul denied the charges and no credible evidence of his guilt was ever produced. Paul was, however, brutally tortured while in police detention and was briefly hospitalized as a result. Two weeks after PEN announced the award at its annual benefit, on April 29, 1992, Paul was released and all charges against him released. In August 1992, Paul traveled to New York where PEN hosted a press conference on his behalf at which he accepted his award.


1991
Abraham Serfaty, Morocco

Editor of the former literary magazine Souffles , Abraham Serfaty was serving a life sentence from 1974 until his release from prison in September 1991. He was sentenced solely on account of his political and literary activities. Serfaty now lives in Paris and attributes his release in no small part to the campaign mounted on his behalf by his wife, Christine Jouvin, and by PEN.

Francisco Valencia, El Salvador
Editor of El Diario Latino , Valencia has continued to publish the paper, hailed by The New York Times as that country's "only independent newspaper," despite threats to the staff and a firebomb attack on his office in February 1991 in which most of the paper's equipment was destroyed. The award helped to finance the paper's return to full operations. The perpetrators of the firebomb attack, however, have not been apprehended.


1990
Jack Mapanje, Malawi

Malawi's only internationally known poet whose collection Of Chameleons and Gods has been published by Heineman but banned in his own country. Mapanje was detained without charge or trial for over three years until his release in May 1990. Now he and his wife and three children live in York, England.

Bei Dao, China
One of China's most famous poets, Bei Dao initiated an appeal for the release of Chinese political prisoners in the months leading up to the June 3, 1989 clampdown on the students' Tiananmen Democracy Movement. Like many of China's prominent writers, Bei Dao is now forced to live in exile, but he used the award to set up the magazine Today , which is disseminated among the Chinese intellectual community outside China.


1989
Nguyen Chi Thien, Vietnam

Nguyen's collection of poetry, Flowers From Hell , has been published in the West. Nguyen spent most of his adult life behind bars but was released from prison in November 1988. He now lives in a town near Hanoi and his state of health is said to be slowly improving.

Martha Kumsa, Ethiopia
Writer and journalist Kumsa was released from prison after several years of detention without charge or trial a few months after she received the award. She is now reunited with her three children and lives in Canada. When PEN granted her the award, her name had to be kept anonymous; now, fortunately, she is out of all danger.


1988
Maina wa Kinyatti, Kenya

Writer and historian Maina wa Kinyatti was released on October 17, 1988, after serving six and one half years in prison. He now lives in New York. This is fortunate since, had he stayed in Kenya, he would almost certainly have been rearrested, given the current repressive atmosphere there just now.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia
Toer was placed under city arrest and though he is Indonesia's most famous novelist, he is still banned in his own country. William Morrow, however, has published his novels The Fugitive and This Earth of Mankind , the first part of Toer's famous quartet of novels. His house arrest was lifted in 1999.


1987
Matsemela Manaka, South Africa

The playwright Matsemela Manaka used the award to fund a playwright workshop for young authors in Soweto. He later wrote to PEN saying: "Our playwrights' workshop was very successful and we hope to publish the playscript immediately after the production for public performances . . . The Freedom to Write Award has made wonders for me. I have received letters from all sorts of hidden corners congratulating me."

Nizametdin Akhmetov, Soviet Union
The poet Nizametdin Akhmetov was released on June 4, 1987, after 20 years' imprisonment in labor camps and psychiatric hospitals. He lived in Hamburg, West Germany, until a few months ago when he returned to the Soviet Union and was re-arrested. Thanks to the effort

Selected Works

NON-FICTION
Best-selling author Barbara Goldsmith on the myth and reality behind the extraordinary "Madame Curie".
“Absorbing, sweeping ... richness of narrative ... complex morally nuanced portraits ... compelling narrative power ... fabulously rich.”
--The New York Times
“Fascinating . . . An engrossing tale of greed, incest, treachery, legal incompetence, corruption, wealth and weakness.”
--People
“Prodigiously researched this book has vast range. Staggering, gripping, confounding, informative, it is extraordinary.”
--Time Magazine
FICTION
“Brilliant, fascinating, chilling—a marvelously entertaining novel about the decadent world of the super rich and the New York art establishment.” --Peter Maas
SELECTED ARTICLES
Read Barbara Goldsmith's essay "You Know, I Could Write the Most Wonderful Book" from the September 30th, 1984 issue of The New York Times Book Review.
Barbara Goldsmith's Op-Ed article for the New York Times on the controversy of the removal of Larry Rivers "Legs" from Sag Harbor, Long Island.
"La Dolce Viva" by Barbara Goldsmith. New York Magazine, 1968.
TOM WOLFE'S recounting of the beginning of New York Magazine
"No longer are there immutable standards by which to judge ourselves. Image has overtaken reality." -- Barbara Goldsmith, The New York Times Magazine, 1983
Barbara Goldsmith's contribution to the book "Windows on Central Park: The Landscape Revealed" by Betsy Pinover Schiff
Barbara Goldsmith's contribution "An Ongoing Vision" to the monograph on Robert Wilson and The Watermill Center.
Barbara Goldsmith's article from The New Yorker entitled "Women on the Edge".
ARTICLES ABOUT BARBARA
Pranay Gupte's article on Barbara Goldsmith for the New York Sun.
Read the interview with Barbara Goldsmith in the NYPL BookMark Magazine
"A Testament of Riches Shared" by Pamela Ryckman
BLOGS
Barbara Goldsmith's Blog on Barbie in the 21st Century
Barbara Goldsmith's Blog on the death of Casey Johnson
Barbara Goldsmith's blog from The Daily Beast on New York Public Library pensions
Barbara Goldsmith's blog from The Daily Beast on Ethics
Barbara Goldsmith writes on inherited wealth.