We encourage all visitors to this page, and in particular NZSA PEN NZ members, to write letters to the relevant authorities as suggested in the action papers below, and to share the papers and any specific activities you are organising on social media and with your local media.

Our focus cases for 2018 are:


DAWIT ISAAK – ERITREA – Writer, journalist – Dawit Isaak, an award-winning Swedish-Eritrean journalist and writer, has been held incommunicado in Eritrea for over 17 years. His case is emblematic of the dire situation facing independent journalists in the country, many of whom have been subjected to systematic arbitrary arrests, threats, harassment and enforced disappearances over the years. Isaak was one of several journalists arrested during the government’s September 2001 crackdown on independent voices in the press and politics. Very little is known about his current circumstances. Although Eritrea’s Foreign Minister claimed in a 2016 interview that all of the journalists and politicians arrested in 2001 were still alive – including Isaak – no proof has yet been provided. Similarly, there is little information available concerning the charges against these prisoners; the Foreign Minister has said that those arrested would be tried “when the government decides.” Isaak was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2017More

MIROSLAVA BREACH VELDUCEA – MEXICO – Journalist – Veteran journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea was repeatedly shot in the head outside her home in Chihuahua on 23 March 2017. Breach Velducea, aged 54, was a well-known journalist whose twenty-year career focused on reporting on political and social issues, often covering corruption. Her most recent work exposed connections between local politicians and drug cartels. She worked as a correspondent for the national paper La Jornada, and contributed to several other news outlets. Shortly before her murder, Breach had headed a corruption investigation. The federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes against Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especial para la Libertad de Expresión – FEADLE) launched an investigation into her murder. More

OLEG SENTSOV – RUSSIA – Writer, filmmaker – Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, is serving a 20-year prison sentence on spurious terrorism charges after a grossly unfair trial by a Russian military court, marred by allegations of torture. He is currently being held in the ‘Polar Bear’ penal colony of Labytnangi, in Siberia, thousands of kilometres away from his home and family in Crimea. He recently spent 145 days on hunger strike, calling for the release of all Ukrainian prisoners imprisoned in Russia on politically motivated grounds. He ended his strike on 6 October 2018 as he feared being forced-fed. More

SHAHIDUL ALAM – BANGLADESH – Writer, photographer, activist – Award-winning photographer, writer and activist – Shahidul Alam – was taken from his home in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, by plainclothes police officers on the night of 5 August 2018. Shortly before his arrest, Alam had given an interview to the news agency Al Jazeera in which he was critical of the government’s handling of student-led protests – which had been calling for better road safety laws after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus on 29 July. The government responded to the protests by firing teargas and rubber bullets into the crowds of protestors, injuring hundreds. More

WAEL ABBAS IMPRISONED – EGYPT – Writer, activist – PEN International strongly condemns the continued arbitrary detention of Wael Abbas, a prominent Egyptian writer and political activist, who is widely known for documenting abuses by the Egyptian security forces. In May 2018, his house was raided by armed police and he was blindfolded and arrested. He is facing charges of “joining a terrorist group in realizing its objectives”, “spreading false news” and “using the internet to propagate a terrorist group’s ideology”. Since his arrest on 24 May 2018, Abbas’s pre-trial detention has been regularly extended by the Egyptian judiciary. More recently on 16 October 2018, the Cairo Criminal Court has renewed his detention for a further 45 days for investigation. More



Courage Day media resource for schools


On Translation Day PEN centres translated the work of Dareen Tatour. Read his poem A Poet Behind Bars There is a wonderful collection of poems written by Enoh Meyomesse from Kondengui Prison. Although he was released last year it is not easy to find works by writers in prison translated into English. This is a very powerful collection which PEN put together. His poem I Thank You was written for PEN and is quite nice to use to end any readings you are having on a positive note.

Here is another translation, The Scourge of War by Amanuel Asrat (1999).

Aron Atabek is still in prison. His poem New Zealand Shanyarak written for PEN (NZ) is here.

If you would like any further information about Courage Day and PEN NZ please contact Pen spokesperson Dana Wensley To be a regular letter writer for Writers In Prisons contact Lesley Marshall

Take a moment to write one letter (see Action Papers above) as it could be your letter that tips the balance in favour of the writer in prison.