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PEN Case List documents increasing threats to free expression worldwide

People sign their names at a memorial event for the late Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo in Hong Kong, 19 July 2017
People sign their names at a memorial event for the late Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo in Hong Kong, 19 July 2017

AARON TAM/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on on 24 May 2018.

The PEN International Case List, published today by the global writers association, documents egregious violations of freedom of expression worldwide. From cases of harassment, arrests, attacks, imprisonments and killings of writers and journalists around the world - it is clear that the space for free expression is sharply shrinking. Violence, impunity, anti-terror laws, extended pre-trial detention and surveillance are just some of the ways in which both state and non-state actors silence dissenting voices.

"The statistics for 2017 are numbing enough: 218 attacks on freedom of expression documented by PEN in a year. Writers have been murdered. Many writers and journalists have been imprisoned, detained without trial, and threatened with lawsuits and the powerful continue to attack those who express themselves freely," said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee.

2017 was a turbulent year in global politics, which is reflected in the cases of writers that PEN monitored throughout the year. Two writers were murdered in Mexico, which continues to be the most dangerous country in the world to be a writer or a journalist, with impunity for crimes against journalists fuelling a cycle of deadly violence.

Over half of the writers on the PEN Case List are serving prison terms or are in pre-trial detention, with Iran, China, Vietnam, Eritrea and Turkey being the biggest incarcerators globally. Of the 107 imprisonments documented, 36 have been prosecuted under anti-terror laws, a third of all cases. Nearly of all these are considered to be connected to criticism of the government, rather than actual support of terrorism.

In a tragic turn of events, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, PEN member, writer and human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo, who had spent the last eight years of his life in prison with little or no access to his family, died whilst on medical parole.

"The devastating death of our friend, Liu Xiaobo, is a stark reminder of the price writers can be forced to pay for speaking truth to power and challenging those who seek to silence dissent. Looking at these cases of writers, who are also mothers, partners, brothers and colleagues, who are risking so much to tell stories in the face of grave challenges, must remind us that it is our responsibility to be their voices," said Jennifer Clement, PEN International President

Each year PEN International monitors and campaigns on behalf of hundreds of writers and journalists across the globe who are attacked for their free expression work.

Once a year the PEN International produces a case list (covering the previous year) of individuals around the world who are detained or otherwise persecuted for their peaceful political activities or for the practice of their profession.

You can read and download the Case List here.

You can read the summary and the global overviews here.

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