Author Archives: Lia Mills

PEN Friends letter-writing event

Here is a quote from Enoh Meyomesse (Cameroon) about the effect of receiving letters from PEN members while he was in prison:

“Your letters set me free. Your postcards broke my chains.”

On 15th November, to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer (and the first anniversary of the re-launch of Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann), sixteen members joined us via Zoom to talk about selected writers and write letters and cards of support. Our featured writers were: Nedim Turfent (Turkey), Ilhan Sami Çomak (Turkey), Dawit Isaak (Eritrea), Amanuel Asrat (Eritea), Nasrin Sotoudeh (Iran), Pham Doan Trang (Vietnam) and Paola Ugaz (Peru).

This was a wonderfully friendly, engaged session where we thought about and talked about PEN’s principles of supporting writers who have been imprisoned because of their work, their ideas, their courage and their belief in freedom of expression.

With thanks to English PEN, PEN Norway and the Free the Poet Campaign and PEN International for their support.

Poetry Jukebox Curation “The Revolution is in the Heart”

We are delighted that our @poetryjukebox Curation “The Revolution is in the Heart” has gone live on https://soundcloud.com/user-815416158/sets/irishpen-imprisonedwriters

Kurdish PEN member, writer and poet Meral Şimşek

15 September 2021

Kurdish PEN member, writer and poet Meral Şimşek is facing up to 15 years in prison on the charge of ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and up to seven-and-a-half-years on the charge of ‘making terrorist propaganda’. She is due to stand trial on 21 September. In a separate case, Şimşek faces up to five years in prison on the charge of ‘entering a restricted military area’ after she fled to Greece earlier this year and was pushed back to Turkey. The hearing will take place on 16 November.

PEN International believes that Meral Şimşek is being targeted for her writings and calls for all charges against her to be dropped.

TAKE ACTION: Please send appeals to the Turkish authorities:

  • Calling for all charges against Meral Şimşek to be dropped;
  • Calling for an end to the prosecution and detention of journalists and writers on the basis of the content of their writing or alleged affiliation, and for the immediate release all those held in prison for exercising their right to freedom of expression;
  • Calling for an end to the crackdown on the Kurdish regions and for a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict.

Send appeals to:

Abdulhamit Gül

Role: Minister of Justice

Address: Ministry of Justice, Adalet Bakanlığı, 06659 Ankara, Turkey

Twitter: https://twitter.com/abdulhamitgul

Contact: info@adalet.gov.tr

Send copies to the Embassy of Turkey in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/turkey .

Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Turkey, calling on them to raise Meral Şimşek’s case in bilateral fora.

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 21 September 2021. ***

Please inform PEN International of any action you take and any responses you receive. Messages can be sent to Aurélia Dondo, Europe Programme Coordinator: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org

https://pen-international.org/news/turkey-charges-against-kurdish-pen-member-must-be-dropped

PENWrites: Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace (Bahrain)

English PEN’s ongoing PENWrites letter-writing campaign, which Irish PEN supports, now includes Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, an award-winning academic, activist, and blogger from Bahrain. He has spent the last decade in prison, where he is serving a life-sentence for his role in the 2011 pro-democracy protests.  
  
In July 2021, Dr Al-Singace launched a hunger strike to protest his ill-treatment in prison, in particular the confiscation of a manuscript he had been working on for years. Amid mounting concerns for his health and well-being, we continue to call for his immediate and unconditional release. We hope you will join us in sending a message of support and solidarity. 

Write to Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace at https://www.englishpen.org/pen-writes/penwrites-dr-abduljalil-al-singace/

If you write to Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace as a member of Irish PEN, please say so in your letter. International support is important.

VARAVARA RAO EVENT, 29th September 2021

Join Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann, Scottish PEN and guests

as we share readings and updates on the case of renowned Indian poet, Varavara Rao.

Wednesday 29th September 19.00-20.00

About this event

This free event will provide an overview of Rao’s remarkable life and include readings of poetry he has produced over his decades-long career. We will also provide an update on Rao’s case, and share information about the ways that attendees can demonstrate their support.

The event will be chaired by Professor Ignatius McGovern and will feature a rare opportunity to hear from Rao’s nephew, Venugopal Nellutla, who published ‘The Making of Varavara Rao: An Intimate Portrait by a Nephew‘ in 2020. The event will also include poetry and prose readings from Professor Bashabi Fraser, Leela Soma, June Considine and Kate Ennals.

The event will take place between 7.00pm-8.00pm via Zoom, and joining details will be shared with attendees in advance.

You can register by following this link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/freedom-for-varavara-rao-tickets-169320665669

Read a recent statement published by PEN centres in support of Rao:  https://scottishpen.org/joint-statement-freedom-for-varavara-rao/

 Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann is delighted to be hosting this event on Wednesday, 29 September 2021, in partnership with Scottish PEN.

JOINT STATEMENT: FREEDOM FOR VARAVARA RAO

As PEN Centres we wish to highlight the case of renowned Indian poet, Varavara Rao, to all those who care about the defense of freedom of expression for writers. We call for all charges to be dropped against Rao, and hope that you will join our campaign to ensure his freedom.

Varavara Rao is an 82-year-old poet and activist who was arrested in 2018 along with several other activists in India on charges of inciting violence under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The charges relate to Elgaar Parishad, a non-profit event held on 31 December 2017 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima. The controversial Bhima Koregaon case, and the arrests and incarcerations associated with it, shocked us and many other human rights organisations around the world.

Since his 2018 arrest, Rao has been held in appalling conditions. The notorious Taloja Central Prison where he has been held took no account of his age and fragility. In July 2020, he tested positive for Covid-19 and was moved to JJ Hospital in Mumbai. Here, his visiting relatives reportedly found him unattended and delirious on a urine-soaked bed.

On 22 February 2021, Rao was released from custody on an interim bail agreement, after the Bombay High Court conceded that ‘…the hospital at the Taloja Central Prison is not adequately equipped to take care of the undertrial, given his advanced age and various health conditions. Sending the undertrial back to Taloja Central Prison would certainly endanger his life.’

Our relief when this decision was reached by the Bombay High Court is now tempered with grave fears that he will be returned to jail when this six-month bail period ends. We also remain deeply concerned over the bail conditions imposed on Rao, which include prohibiting him from speaking with media and restricting his movements to the Mumbai area, hundreds of kilometres from his hometown of Telangana.

Sharing her fears for Rao’s future, Scottish PEN Trustee and Writers at Risk Committee member Bashabi Fraser said:

‘We do not want Varavara Rao to be returned to jail to meet the same fate as the humanitarian social worker, 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, an innocent man who was incarcerated as a political prisoner and died in jail in early July 2021. Father Swamy had been held without trial charged on the same Elgaar Parishad case as the much respected 82-year-old poet activist, Varavara Rao. Varavara Rao has been wrongly accused. We demand that all fabricated charges are dropped against Rao and he is allowed to live as a free man with dignity’.

A Marxist poet and activist, Rao is an important figure in Telugu literature, and has published over 15 poetry collections since the 1960s. He is a founder of the Virasam – the Revolutionary Writers Association, and ran Srujana (Creation), a monthly journal focusing on modern Telugu literature, for over 25 years. His prison diary – Captive Imagination – was published in English in 2010. Rao is well known for his campaigning work to secure land and labour rights for Indian workers, and PEN Centres have been advocating for his freedom since his arrest in 2018. A poetry anthology dedicated to Rao, entitled Freedom Raga, was published last year and an anthology of his work in English is forthcoming from Penguin India this autumn.

June Considine, co-founder of the Freedom to Write Campaign (Ireland) and Board member of Irish PEN, made the following call to Indian authorities:

‘Now in his eighty-second year, Rao’s reputation as a poet has garnered him an international audience. He is widely respected for his principles and defense of human rights. We hope that the Indian authorities will afford him those same democratic liberties and take account of his distinguished career, his great age and declining health. This humanitarian gesture will reflect the true value of a functioning democracy’

We, the undersigned PEN Centres, call for the immediate release of Varavara Rao and fellow Elgaar Parishad activists and for the release of all prisoners being held for exercising their right to peaceful freedom of expression.

  • Scottish PEN
  • Irish PEN
  • PEN International
  • English PEN
  • PEN Delhi

To support our call to action please consider the following:

  • Write to representatives of the government of India in your country expressing your concern.
  • Write to the Honorable Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
  • Write to your country’s Foreign Ministry about the case.
  • Inform local and online news and media outlets about the case.
  • Read Varavara Rao’s work and share it with your friends. Consider holding an event in support of Varavara Rao around the time of his bail hearing.
  • Join your local PEN Centre, inform yourself about this and other cases, get involved.

PENWrites: Amanuel Asrat & PEN Belarus

(This message comes from English PEN. With thanks to Cat Lucas.)


‘I’m stuck where to start. I’m also anxious that I’m knowingly writing you a letter you cannot receive or respond to. I hope that, one day, though you may be the last person to do so, you will read it.’

– Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu for PEN Transmissions

Today, 26 July 2021, is the 50th birthday of Eritrean poet and editor Amanuel Asrat, the first featured writer of our PENWrites campaign. One of PEN’s longest-standing cases of concern, Amanuel remains imprisoned and incommunicado in Eritrea, nearly 20 years after he was first arrested.

To mark the day, we have featured a piece by award-winning writer and PEN Eritrea member Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu on our online magazine, PEN Transmissions. Please do read and share this very moving piece. 


Website: https://www.englishpen.org/posts/campaigns/eritrea-amanuel-asrats-50th-birthday/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/englishpen/status/1419645310041722884
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/englishpen_/?hl=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/englishpenofficial/

We continue to gather messages of solidarity for Amanuel’s family to show them that he has not been – and will not be – forgotten. Please do send a message if you can, and help spread the word.

IWC Evolution Programme 2021

The Irish Writers Centre has announced a new Evolution Programme as part of their 30th Anniversary celebration. This Programme is a new strand of combined supports for professional writers, an opportunity for published writers resident on the island of Ireland to avail from a series of sustained supports, which are partly tailored to their specific needs. More information about this exciting opportunity here

More general information about the work of the Centre, courses on offer etc, here