Join the New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa (PEN NZ) Inc to mark Courage Day 2023 (also known as The Day of the Imprisoned Writer) in Aotearoa, New Zealand – 15 November – and throughout the week. Courage Day recognises writers who defend the right to free speech, and those who suffer oppression and are killed and/or imprisoned for their work.
DOIW 2023 – Take Action for Go Sherab Gyatso (China – Tibet)
Occupation: Writer, educator and public intellectual
#GoSherabGyatso #Gosher #ImprisonedWriter
A prominent Tibetan writer, educator and public intellectual, Go Sherab Gyatso, known as Gosher, is serving a 10-year prison sentence reportedly imposed following a secret trial held in late 2021. He was detained by People’s Republic of China (PRC) security services on 26 October 2020, in the Sichuan province’s city of Chengdu on suspicion of inciting secession. He was subsequently transferred to the Tibetan Autonomous Region where he was formally charged on 3 February 2021.
Human rights groups and national governments have called for Gosher’s immediate release, and independent experts of the United Nations, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, have expressed serious concern over his imprisonment. There are also ongoing concerns over Gosher’s health and access to adequate medical care, following reports that he was detained while seeking medical treatment for a chronic lung condition.
Gosher, born on 9 September 1976, is the author of over 10 books, including Wake Up (2007), Insights of a Thinker (2013) and Across the Himalayas (2015), and the author of several essays which have been translated into English and are available online. Much of his writing centres on Tibetan Buddhism, language, and culture, and he has been heavily critical of the government’s efforts to undermine Tibetan children’s access to education in their mother tongue.
This is the fourth time that the PRC authorities have imprisoned Gosher, who was previously detained in 1998 and 2008 for his criticism of government restrictions on Tibetan religious and cultural practices, and in 2011 after meeting with a publisher concerning his second book, General Knowledge & the Path (2011).
Take Action for Iryna Danylovych (Ukraine/occupied Crimea)
Occupation: Citizen journalist, human rights defender
Situation: Imprisoned in the Russian Federation
#IrynaDanylovych #FreeDanylovych #ImprisonedWriter
Born on 6 May 1979, Iryna Danylovych is a human rights defender, citizen journalist and medical professional, who exposed problems in the Crimean health care system. She collaborated with independent media outlets reporting on politically motivated trials in occupied Crimea, and has previously been harassed on account of her journalistic reporting and trade union activities.
Danylovych was abducted by unidentified assailants and forcibly disappeared in Koktebel, occupied Crimea, on 29 April 2022. That same day, Russian security forces searched her house and seized her phone and equipment. Danylovych was eventually located by her attorney on 11 May 2022 in a pre-trial detention centre in Simferopol. She reported being subjected to torture and other ill-treatment while in detention and forced to sign a confession without having read it. She was subsequently charged with ‘illegal purchase, transfer, storage and transportation of explosive substances or explosive devices’ under Article 222.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and listed as a ‘foreign agent’ by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation.
On 28 December 2022, the Feodosia City Court sentenced Danylovych to seven years in prison and fined her 50,000 Rubles (approximately 670 Euros). On 29 June 2023, the Supreme Court of occupied Crimea upheld the verdict, reducing her sentence by one month. She was unlawfully transferred to the Russian Federation on 24 July 2023 and is currently being held in Penal Colony No. 7 in Zelenokumsk, in Stavropol region, Southern Russia.
In March 2023, Danylovych went on a hunger strike in protest against her persisting lack of adequate medical care in prison. According to her family, she has fully lost hearing in her left ear.
Scores of Ukrainian citizen journalists and human rights activists are currently being kept behind bars in occupied Crimea and in the Russian Federation on politically motivated grounds, including Server Mustafayev, who featured in PEN International’s 2022 Day of the Imprisoned Writer Campaign. PEN International has repeatedly called on the Russian Federation to immediately and unconditionally end its devastating war against Ukraine, including through a Resolution adopted at PEN International’s 88th annual Congress in September 2022, a statement marking a year of war crimes and resolve in Ukraine, and a Declaration of PEN International’s Writers for Peace Committee issued in May 2023.
Take Action for María Cristina Garrido Rodríguez (Cuba)
Occupation: Poet and activist
On March 10, 2022, Cuban poet and activist María Cristina Garrido Rodríguez received a seven-year prison sentence on charges of ‘public disorder,’ ‘assault’, ‘instigation to commit a crime’, ‘contempt,’ and ‘resistance’.
This verdict came in the wake of her arrest on July 12, 2021, when she joined thousands of fellow Cubans, including her sister, in the peaceful protests the swept the country on July 11. These demonstrations aimed to address the erosion of their basic rights, aggravated by the government’s management of the COVID-19 crisis and the deteriorating economy.
Upon her arrest, Garrido endured multiple beatings at the hands of the Cuban authorities and was subjected to enforced disappearance for a harrowing 18 days.
Currently, she is imprisoned in the Guatao Women’s Prison, where she has been subjected to harsh and inhumane treatment, including solitary confinement, physical assaults, deprivation of food and water, and inadequate sanitary conditions. Moreover, she has been denied family visits and phone calls on various occasions.
It was not until the 349th day of her detention that Garrido was able to resume writing. In December 2021, from her prison cell, she wrote a letter expressing her pride in participating in the events of July 11. She also spoke out against the horrors faced by those incarcerated in Cuban prisons, saying, “On July 11, we exhibited courage and determination, breaking the silence of years. We demonstrated unity and diversity, as people of all ages and backgrounds took to the streets to voice their support for the overthrow of the dictatorship and for a prosperous, democratic Cuba.” She also mentioned that State Security “punishes me for every word I write, but I cannot cease to breathe.”
Together with her sister Angélica, Garrido initiated a hunger strike on September 20, 2022, lasting for five days to protest their sentences and detention. According to their family members, the Cuban authorities relied on false testimony from police officers and other witnesses during her January 2022 trial.
Born in Quivicán, Mayaquebé, in 1982, Garrido is the author of “Examen de tiempo” (Time Examination), published in 2022. She was honored with the 2008 First National Prize in the Carlos Baliño Tobacco Competition. An active member of the Cuban Women’s Network, she actively promotes the visibility of women in various spheres and participates in other activist networks such as the Fundación Vuelta abajo por Cuba and the Latin Federation of Rural Women. Unfortunately, a significant portion of Garrido’s work has been confiscated by the Cuban state from her residence in Quivicán.
Voz cautiva: poemas escritos desde la cárcel – Captive Voice: poems written from prison- is her most recent book, published in 2023 by the Spanish publishing house Deslinde. This edition highlights the challenged faced by Garrido during her political imprisonment, including ill-treatment, isolation, surveillance, and depression, among others.
For additional information on freedom of expression in Cuba, click here.
DOIW 2023 – Take Action for Soulaiman Raissouni (Morocco)
Soulaiman Raissouni is a prominent Moroccan journalist and the former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct opposition newspaper Akhbar al-Youm. He gained recognition for his editorials critical of the Moroccan authorities.
On May 22, 2020, Moroccan police arrested Raissouni on charges of ‘sexual assault’ and ‘enforced confinement.’ He vehemently denied these allegations, asserting they were retaliatory and politically motivated.
Raissouni endured nearly a year of arbitrary pre-trial detention before the Casablanca Court of Appeal sentenced him on July 9, 2021 to five years in prison, and imposed a fine of 100,000 Moroccan Dirhams (equivalent to approximately $10,000). His trial was marred by irregularities, and the sentence was delivered in his absence and that of his defence team. Raissouni’s family reported that the Moroccan authorities prevented him from attending several trial hearings, and rejected all his requests for release pending trial. Additionally, they confirmed that during his detention, Raissouni was denied visitation rights and, on few occasions, access to legal counsel.
According to the case file examined by PEN International, Raissouni’s arrest was prompted by online accusations of sexual assault. The case file disclosed that the accuser made these allegations using a different name and never specifically identified Raissouni as the perpetrator. Nevertheless, local media outlets with close government affiliations, initiated a smear campaign against Raissouni amplifying these accusations, prior to his arrest and subsequent detention.
An investigation by the non-profit project Forbidden Stories published in 2021, revealed that Raissouni had been targeted for surveillance using the notorious Pegasus spyware for a two-year period, starting in 2017, alongside other prominent Moroccan journalists, including Omar Radi and Taoufik Bouachrine.
In August the same year, Raissouni ended his 122-day hunger strike, which he had initiated to protest his prolonged pre-trial detention and unfair trial. His family informed PEN International that the hunger strike had caused him significant weight loss and adversely affected his overall health, particularly his ability to walk.
In July, prison authorities published a CCTV video of Raissouni in prison, without his knowledge while he was wearing little clothing. In the video, he appeared using crouches and to have lost significant weight. His family considered the release of video to be another attempt by the authorities to defame and intimidate him. While in prison, authorities also denied Raissouni access to reading and writing materials for prolonged period, and he remains unable to receive and send letters freely. In May 2022, prison authorities confiscated his diaries and a draft novel.
In February 2022, the Casablanca Court of Appeal upheld the five years sentence.
In July 2023, despite international pressure and criticism over his arbitrary detention and unfair trial, the Rabat Court of Cassation rejected Rassouni’s final appeal, upholding his unjust prison sentence.
In July 2022, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the arrest and detention of Raissouni were arbitrary, raising grave concerns over his physical and psychological well-being. Furthermore, in January 2023, the European Parliament adopted resolution 2023/2506(RSP), urging the Moroccan authorities to uphold freedom of expression and press freedom, ensure fair trials and due process for all imprisoned journalists, including Raissouni, secure their release, and cease their harassment and that of their lawyers and families.
Since May 2020, Rassouni’s wife, screenwriter and journalist Kholoud Moktari has faced a systematic smear campaign by pro-government media due to her activism on behalf of her husband. The campaign, which PEN International is closely monitoring, intensified following the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s opinion (31/2022), recognising the arbitrary nature of Raissouni’s detention, aligning with Moktari’s claims of his rights violations.
PEN International believes that Raissouni’s conviction resulted from an unfair trial, and that he is being targeted because of the content of his writings. The organization is also deeply concerned about Raissouni’s physical and psychological well-being.
For more information on Morocco other imprisoned Moroccan journalists, please click here.