Writers in Prison

empty chair_opt

Empty chair, Onehunga Library

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International works on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide. It was established in 1960 in response to increasing attempts to silence voices of dissent by imprisoning writers and journalists.

Working on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide, the WiPC monitors between 700-900 cases across the globe each year. The WiPC mobilises the wider PEN community, including PEN New Zealand, to take action through its Rapid Action Network alerts and targeted regional campaigns.

The Committee’s Rapid Action Network Alerts provide details of cases of individuals whose lives and liberty are being threatened and makes specific suggestions for action.

In addition to its work on behalf of individual writers, the Committee creates campaigns on issues affecting freedom of expression, such as Religious Defamation, Impunity and Criminal Defamation, and campaigns focused on specific regions or countries, such as the Americas, Iran, China and Turkey.

To join the New Zealand PEN Writers in Prison Committee or to take part in letter writing on behalf of persecuted writers, contact Lesley Marshall editline@xtra.co.nz. Lesley will provide you with guidelines on responding to the current PEN Rapid Action Network Alert.

Here’s a note from Lesley about the process and a good place to start if you are considering being a letter writer.

International PEN Writers In Prison Guide

Writers in Prison Committee Coordinator

Lesley Marshall

Lesley Marshall

Email: editline@xtra.co.nz
Lesley Marshall is a freelance editor, who also teaches three polytechnic papers, teaches part-time at a couple of primary schools, works as a mentor and assessor for the Society of Authors, is occasionally hired by publishers as an editor, helps judge writing competitions, teaches specialist writing classes for children, and periodically works as an assessor for Whitireia Polytechnic. While she doesn’t spend a lot of time writing, she used to compile crossword puzzles for magazines, and has had a couple of stories on the radio.


This is a poem written by Aron Atabek for the NZ Writers in Prison Committee. It is his way of thanking Lesley and her letter writing team for their support advocating on his behalf. Aron is still in prison.

Aron Atabek (poet) sentenced to 18 years in prison after clashes in the village of Shanyrak. Almaty, October 2007.







for Lesley Marshall and PEN New Zealand

There is an empty chair in New Zealand – Kept for me on writers’ congress,
That is the God to turn me – Back to an ‘environment’, to a writer’s place!

Writer is an armchair worm –
Gnawing science tomes,
Only sometimes he affects –
Having published poems and novels.

And Life, seems to be passing by,
Writer – the life’s contemplator,
Yet he is present invisibly,
On the stricken filed with us.

Writer, he is the THIRD EYE –
And he sees through distance,
And contemplates the “SHANYRAK” –
And us, the fighters on the stricken field.

And if in Kazakhstan bulldozer breaks homes – Family’s asylum, a Holy
Hearth, By doing that they break New Zealand ‘SHANYRAK’ too!

As ‘SHANYRAK’ is not merely a shelter, roof – In summer heat, in winter
cold, ‘Shanyrak’ is a Segner wheel, given from above, A symbol of the Sky,
the Sun, the eternal motion!

The world is a running Segner wheel –
From the crucifixion till the crucifixion Christ, He also had been a
REVOLUTIONARY – Social-Justice and Democracy!

Quotation: “And TENGRI sees my soul –
With the eyes of the *Aruakh,
With the Nation’s karma –
I am crucified on the ‘SHANYRAK’!

There is an empty chair in New Zealand – Kept for me on writers’ congress,
Wait, my friends, and I will come back – Not for an empty place!

Aron ATABEK 12.10.2014
Pavlodar, SI-14, solitary confinement, punishment cell of the PKT, c.#36

*Aruakh – Kazakh ‘Ancestor’s spirit’.