Courage Day (also called International Day of the Imprisoned Writer) is observed on the 15th of November each year.

day of the imprisoned writer Why Support Courage Day?

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.

PEN International – Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2023                                       

NZSA commemorates The Day of the Imprisoned Writer – Courage Day.


In 2022 two Courage Day events are happening with the Wellington branch (Nov 15), and the Waikato branch (Nov 16). See your branch for details.

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.  

For further information on PEN or any issues or concerns raised above please contact Lesley Marshall, NZ PEN Representative at


Courage Day – Day of the Imprisoned Writer: Follow this link

empty chair_optWhat is the ‘Empty Chair’ Campaign?

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 International Congress represent 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.

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.


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.


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.



A sample of works by or about imprisoned writers

The_Pen_ReportThe 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 (poet) sentenced to 18 years in prison after clashes in the village of Shanyrak. Almaty, October 2007.Aron Atabek: The Day of the Imprisoned Writer

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_impunityWrite Against Impunity: Latin American Authors Commemorate their Murdered Colleagues
Buy here




1000_Lashes“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.



126730860Enoh 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.