Last week, I gave a speech in the Scottish Parliament leading a debate to mark Day of the Imprisoned Writer.
This day is marked every year on 15 November by PEN International to stand in solidarity with at-risk and imprisoned writers across the globe.
Around the world, too many writers are in prison; this includes journalists, novelists, poets, essayists, translators, publishers, editors, playwrights, cartoonists, bloggers and social media activists.
It has never been a more dangerous time to be a journalist. According to Reporters Without Borders, 80 journalists worldwide were killed in 2018. This year, so far, 234 journalists, 136 citizen journalists and 17 media assistants have been imprisoned during the course of their duties. 31 journalists in 2019 have lost their lives.
According to UNESCO, of the 930 killings recorded between 2012 and 2016, only 10% have been resolved and seen genuine justice. This means that in nine out of ten cases, the killers of journalists go unpunished.
Earlier this month, Turkish novelist and journalist, Ahmet Altan was released after spending three years in prison without being charged with any crime, related to the attempted coup in Turkey. On Tuesday 12th November, he was rearrested by the Turkish authorities.
The importance of writers standing in Solidarity with their colleagues is illustrated in this quote from a letter written by James Robertson to Ahmet Altan:
If people all over the world are reading your books, then those who have locked you up are defeated with every word read, with every page turned, with every story told.
On the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, we call for all writers in prison to be released, for all threats and attacks to be defended against and in line with the law and international standards. Where individuals have been murdered, we demand full, transparent and robust investigations to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
Scottish PEN is working to establish an ICORN City of Refuge in Glasgow to offer practical and substantial support and protection for at-risk writers to ensure that they can continue to write, free from threats of persecution, violence or imprisonment.
Freedom of expression and a free media is necessary in building inclusive knowledge societies and democracies and in fostering intercultural dialogue, peace and good governance. To protect at-risk writers is to protect free expression; and to to protect free expression is to protect democracy.