Day of the Imprisoned Writer is observed annually on November 15, raising awareness about censorship, harassment, and persecution of writers and journalists worldwide. Censorship is a growing problem today, with many government agencies spying on their citizens, especially anti-vocal government critics, whistleblowers, and political activists. In some countries, freedom of the press is non-existent, and independent journalism results in arbitrary detention. Human rights organizations and groups dedicated to protecting free speech distribute banned materials in some parts of the world. They also invite advocates, writers, and reporters to discuss the state of independent journalism and free speech.
History of Day of the Imprisoned Writer
Day of the Imprisoned Writer started in 1981 and was the product of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. Since its introduction, PEN has used the holiday to call for the release of imprisoned writers, advocate for better protection for journalists and activists, and fight for justice for those writers who gave up their lives in the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the truth. Despite enduring the same threats, intimidation, and intrusive surveillance from state authorities, poets, translators, publishers, and novelists are honored for their contributions to the cause. PEN coordinates activities through more than its 100 centers worldwide.
Each year, PEN lists five writers persecuted or imprisoned by their governments. These writers come from different parts of the world but are constantly engaged in reporting or investigating stories involving corruption, violent crimes, illegal spying, police cover-ups, and state-sponsored violence. In 2009, PEN named Liu Xiaobo and Natalia Estemirova on their list of writers. Xiaobo, a dissident writer, later died in detention in 2017. Estemirova was abducted and murdered by unknown persons in 2009 while she was investigating war crimes in Chechnya.
In 2018, PEN joined the rest of the human rights and free speech-oriented organizations in condemning the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Through the “America Senior Director of Free Expression,” PEN called for the Saudi authorities to produce Khashoggi and hold the persons responsible for his murder accountable. On Day of the Imprisoned Writer in 2021, PEN named Chinese scholar Rahile Dawut, U.A.E. human rights lawyer Mohamed Al-Roken, Turkish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, Cuban musician Maykel Osorbo, and a collective case of 12 Eritrean writers imprisoned for 20 years incommunicado. PEN International remains dedicated to supporting poets, playwrights, editors, essayists, and novelists worldwide.
Day of the Imprisoned Writer timeline
French writer and philosopher Voltaire is imprisoned for nearly a year at the Bastilles for composing poems mocking the royal family.
Australian programmer and political activist, Julian Assange, commences Wikileaks, an online whistleblowing platform.
Edward Snowden reveals thousands of classified N.S.A. documents to journalists, detailing U.S. intelligence agencies' illegal and intrusive surveillance of American citizens.
'The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists' releases 11.9 million files containing the names of business people, celebrities, and politicians who engage in money laundering or have wealth stashed overseas.
Day of the Imprisoned Writer FAQs
Who is the most controversial writer?
Kurt Vonnegut, author of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” has been the subject of censorship debates since he published the book in 1969.
Why was "Catcher in the Rye" banned?
The book’s 16-year-old protagonist, Holden, frequently swore throughout the story, making parents and censors feel the book negatively influenced children.
Who was the most banned author in the U.S.?
Maya Angelou was the most banned author in the U.S.
How to Observe Day of the Imprisoned Writer
Stay informed and be proactive in seeking out the truth. Keep tabs on activists and persecuted journalists. Check whistleblowing sites and platforms regularly.
Support PEN International
You can donate to PEN International through their website. Donations help the organization defend freedom of expression, promote literature across frontiers, and support writers worldwide.
Write a letter or send a message to your favorite banned author or journalist. If they're on social media, reach out to them and share your thoughts.
5 Crucial Facts About Censorship
The most censored country
Eritrea is the world's most censored nation.
You have a right to information
Every human being has the right to seek and receive news and the freedom to express their opinions, according to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Media as a government mouthpiece
The media is under state authority in Eritrea, Turkmenistan, and North Korea, with all independent journalists working from exile.
Targeted hacking and sophisticated surveillance
Countries like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam use a combination of extensive surveillance and hacking to muzzle the independent press.
Not all censorship is governmental
Non-state actors such as criminal gangs and militias can enforce censorship through violence and create conditions that make it dangerous for the press to do their jobs.
Why Day of the Imprisoned Writer is Important
Freedom of speech is a human right
Freedom of expression and knowledge is the right of every individual. We must protect this universal human right at all costs.
Sharing the truth
Day of the Imprisoned Writer generates conversation around censored writers and their work. More people get to know about the information that costs others their freedom.
Most people still don't know about the dangers of censorship and how it harms societies. It's an opportunity to teach our friends, family, and communities about censorship and share some resources so they can learn how to combat it.
Day of the Imprisoned Writer dates