Courage Day (also called International Day of the Imprisoned Writer) is observed on the 15th of November each year.
Courage Day (also known as The Day of the Imprisoned Writer) recognises writers who defend the right to free speech, and those who suffer oppression and are killed / imprisoned for their work. The beginning of the year was heralded with the deaths of 12 people following a bloody attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo. The editors and employees of Charlie Hedbo were not freelance journalists in war-torn countries. They were people sitting at computer desks near the tourist mecca of Paris’s Bastille monument, churning out satire for public consumption.
Their deaths remind us we should never take the right to freedom of speech for granted.
Courage Day Campaign 2016: Follow this link
Last year at PEN’s International Assembly three “empty chair’s” were featured. There is something evocative about an empty chair. It can symbolise many things. The solitary life of a writer. The fact that with the revolution in publishing, much writing today is never destined for public consumption.
Or it can symbolise something more powerful; the plight of the estimated 700-900 writers around the world who are imprisoned for their work.
The chairs at PEN’s 80th International Congress last year represented imprisoned writers whose absence from the conference was ‘emblematic of challenges faced by their colleagues.’
Writing is a solitary business.
It is also a dangerous one.
Writing: A Dangerous Business
According to Reporters Without Borders, a total of 720 journalists have been killed since 2005. Last year alone saw 66 killed, 178 imprisoned, and 119 kidnapped. One need look no further for visual reminders that the written word is still powerful than the beheadings by ISIS of freelance journalists James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and Japan’s Kenji Goto.
PEN (NZ) is working to get more libraries on board around New Zealand to create an event to recognise this important day in the literary calendar.
Previous years have seen a number of libraries hold individual events. Last year 16 libraries in Auckland and the main Christchurch branch got involved with a number of events ranging from hosting a simple ’empty chair’ to a full display with books of writers imprisoned around the world. An ’empty chair’ is used at conferences to remind authors of the importance of freedom of expression / speech. The ’empty chair’ represents writers imprisoned for their work, and features a brief bio of one author. Some included eye-catching items like a decorated chair with “Danger-No Trespassing” tape and handcuffs, or ‘pop’ up readings of work from imprisoned writers. It is a creative endeavour, and to a certain extent it is up to you to think what best fits with the users of your library. PEN (NZ), in association with the New Zealand Society of Authors can assist you with hosting an event.
For further information on PEN or any issues or concerns raised above please contact Dana Wensley, PEN Representative for NZ at PEN@nzauthors.org.nz
Courage Day: The Day of the Imprisoned Writer – 15 November
PEN (NZ) is spearheading a nationwide campaign to promote the Day of the Imprisoned Writer (known locally as “Courage Day”). It is the day we get a chance to recognise writers who defend the right to free speech, and those who suffer oppression and are killed / imprisoned for their work. Previous years have seen a number of libraries hold individual events. This year we would like to see more writers take part. It may be as simple as arranging for an ‘empty chair’ in support of Aron Atabek to be placed in the local library, or may involve ‘pop up’ readings of works by imprisoned writers. The interim ban on Into the River reminds us that we need to be vigilant and support freedom of expression at every opportunity.
Courage Day is named after James Courage, a New Zealand novelist and poet whose book, A Way of Love,was banned for expressing ideas of homosexuality. His grandmother, Sarah Courage, had her book on early colonial life in Canterbury, Lights and Shadows of Colonial Life, burned by irate neighbours for comments she made about them.
For more information on what the day involves, or how you can contribute, please contact PEN (NZ) spokesperson Dana Wensley.
A sample of works by or about imprisoned writers
The PEN Report: Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China May 3 “2013 – On World Press Freedom Day, PEN International launched The PEN Report: Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China. The culmination of five years of collaborative research among PEN members inside and outside of China, the report is a frank assessment of the climate of freedom of expression in the world’s most populous state. It also provides first-hand accounts of life under the weight of Chinese censorship through personal essays by 10 of China’s leading dissident writers”. – See more at PEN International
This Prison Where I Live: The Pen Anthology of Imprisoned Writers Paperback – 2000
by Siobhan Dowd (Author, Editor), PEN (Author).
Aron Atabek is a poet, journalist and social activist. He has written several books of poetry and prose inspired by Tengriist spirituality and was the founder, in 1992, of the monthly newspaper Khak (The Truth). Atabek was awarded the literary “Almas Kylysh” prize in 2004 and the Freedom to Create “imprisoned” prize in 2010.
Atabek has been in prison since 2007 and has spent much of his incarceration in solitary confinement. In December 2012, following the online publication of The Heart of Eurasia, a critique of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s regime (written in prison by Atabek and smuggled out for publication), the poet was sentenced to spend two years in solitary confinement at a high security prison in Arkalyk. Whilst in solitary detention, Atabek was kept in extremely harsh conditions: he was denied access to natural light, communication with other prisoners, writing materials and telephone calls; family visits were severely restricted, resulting in only one successful visit between 2010 and the current date; he was kept under constant video surveillance.
PEN centres campaigned vigorously to have Atabek released from solitary confinement and moved to a prison within reasonable visiting distance for his family.
Atabek’s solitary confinement and the harsh conditions in which he has been held qualify as a cruel and inhuman punishment that violates the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment under international human rights standards and runs contrary to the recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Write Against Impunity: Latin American Authors Commemorate their Murdered Colleagues
“Raif Badawi’s 1000 Lashes” is an important voice for all of us to hear”– Salman Rushdie
Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, shared his thoughts on politics, religion, and liberalism online. He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, ten years in prison, and a fine of 1 million Saudi Riyal, over a quarter of a million U.S. dollars. This politically topical polemic gathers together Badawi’s pivotal texts. He expresses his opinions on life in an autocratic-Islamic state under the Sharia and his perception of freedom of expression, human and civil rights, tolerance and the necessary separation of state and religion.
Enoh Meyomesse’s Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison
On 27 December 2012, Enoh Meyomesse was sentenced to seven years in prison. His work from prison was translated by English PEN and is available for purchase here.