Making writers in prison from around the world Honorary Members of International PEN and its centres is one of our most successful strategies for raising these writers’ profile, and in some cases, winning their release.
Sydney PEN’s Honorary Members are individuals with whom our centre has had an extensive campaign history. By taking this step in approaching particular cases, we show our long-term commitment to fighting for the writers’ release and increased awareness of their plight.
Noted here are profiles of each writer, the year they became an Honorary Member of Sydney PEN and links to any relevant media or campaign letters.
Dissident poet, academic and former President of International Chinese PEN Centre, Liu Xiaobo [shou-bo], was imprisoned on Christmas Day 2009 for eleven years. Liu had been held in detention since December 2008 on charges of ‘incitement to subversion of state power’ and ‘spreading rumours defaming the government’. Arrested for signing Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reforms and human rights, which was previously believed to carry a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Father Nguyen Van Ly
Editor and Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly (pronouncednoiyen ven lee) was re-arrested by Vietnamese police on 25 July 2011, allegedly for distributing anti-government leaflets during his parole. Fr Van Ly had been on medical leave from an eight year prison sentence for over a year. He has been forcibly returned to prison to serve out the rest of his sentence to 2015. His personal health is at serious risk, as he suffers from partial paralysis and an enlarged prostate.
Journalist, poet and Independent Chinese PEN Centre member, Shi Tao was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for “revealing state secrets abroad”. In April 2004, Shi Tao sent notes he took of a document read out at an editorial meeting of the Dangdai Shangbao (Contemporary Commerce News) to an overseas website using a Yahoo! email account. According to court documents, Yahoo! (Hong Kong) Holdings Ltd provided the Chinese authorities with Shi Tao’s identity.
Sydney PEN believes that the detention of Shi Tao is an infraction of his right to free expression and calls on the Chinese authorities to release him. In 2005 we wrote to Yahoo! and President Hu Jintao to protest his case.
Comedian and poet Zargana was released from prison on 11 October 2011 in a mass amnesty arranged by the Burmese government. Zargana was serving a thirty-five year prison sentence for his peaceful opposition activities and criticism of the government.
PEN continues to demand the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained in Burma in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, protecting the right to freedom of expression.
Nguyen Vu Binh
Journalist and writer Nguyen Vu Binh was released from Nam Ha prison in June 2007 under a presidential amnesty. The amnesty occured in the same month as President Nguyên Minh Triêt’s 2007 visit to the United States, the first such visit by a Vietnamese head of state since the end of the Vietnam War. Subsequently Binh lived under strict house arrest. According to this 2010 Human Rights Report on Vietnam, released by the U.S. Department of State on 8 April 2011, Nguyen Vu Binh is now allowed to travel within Vietnam but not overseas.
Aung Myint and three other journalists were among more than 50 political prisoners released in Myanmar on January 3, 2005, with the hope that at least seven other writers known to PEN to be imprisoned in Myanmar would also be freed.
In addition to his work as a poet and a journalist, Aung Myint was serving as the head of the information department of the National League for Democracy (NLD) at the time of his arrest. He was detained with his assistant Kyaw Sein Oo on September 14, 2000 by members of Unit 14 of the Military Intelligence Service for distributing a press release to international press agencies and Western diplomats a few hours after NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested by security forces as she was trying to leave Rangoon.
Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand
Kurdish journalist Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand received an 11-year prison sentence on 22 June 2008 on charges of “acting against national security” for his Kurdish rights activism. PEN remains seriously concerned for his health, following reports that he suffered two strokes during 2010 and has been denied access to adequate medical care. PEN is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a signatory. We seek assurances of his well-being, guarantees that his basic rights are being respected and that he is being given full access to all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency.
Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodriguez
Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodriguez was released from prison in Cuba in mid-2010 and exiled to Spain, arriving in Madrid on 23 July 2010. Many other Cuban writers and journalists were freed and forced into exile between July and September 2010 under a deal brokered by the Catholic Church and the Spanish foreign ministry.
Lester Luis Gonzalez Penton
Independent journalist Léster Luis González Pentón was the youngest of the 75 opposition members arrested during the “Black Spring” in Cuba in March 2003. He was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment but was released, along with five other independent journalists, on 12 July 2010. The journalists were reunited with their families in Havana before boarding overnight flights to Spain. They arrived in Madrid on 13 July 2010. The Spanish foreign ministry is reported to have helped broker the surprise deal under which the Cuban government has agreed to release all 52 dissidents imprisoned since the March 2003 crackdown.
Pham Hong Son
Medical doctor and dissident writer Pham Hong Son (b. 1967) was released on 3 August 2006, in a general amnesty to mark Vietnam’s National Day on 2 September. Dr Pham was arrested on 27 March, 2002, on charges of espionage after police searched his home, confiscated his computer and several documents, and subjected him to four days’ interrogation. On 18 June, 2003, he was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment (reduced on appeal to five years plus three years in “administrative detention” or house arrest) by the Hanoi People’s Court .
Thích Huyen Quang
Thích Huyền Quang was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, dissident and activist as Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, a currently banned organisation in his homeland.
In 1945 he joined the movement resisting French colonial rule, but in 1951 he was jailed by Viet Minh revolutionaries for refusing to submit to communist control. Released in 1954, Quang was returned to prison in 1963 after challenging the US-backed South Vietnamese regime of the Catholic President, Ngo Dinh Diem, for its discrimination against Buddhists. Later that year he was appointed deputy leader of the newly formed UBCV.
Miguel Galvan Gutierrez
Miguel Galván Gutiérrez was released from prison in Cuba and forced into exile in Spain in September 2010. His release was part of a mass amnesty for “Black Spring” dissidents, brokered by the Catholic Church and the Spanish foreign ministry.
Galván, an independent trade unionist, mechanical engineer and journalist with the independent news agency Havana Press, was arrested during the “Black Spring” crackdown on free expression in Cuba in March 2003. He was tried under Article 91 of the penal code, which imposes lengthy prison sentences or death for those who act against “the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.” In April 2003, he was sentenced to 26 years in prison, which he was serving at Agüica Prison in western Matanzas province.
Writer and member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, Du Daobin was re-arrested on July 21, 2008 to serve the remaining two years and four months of his three-year sentence, which had been suspended for four years, followed by two years’ deprivation of political rights.
Du was convicted on June 11, 2004 of “inciting subversion of state power” for 175 words in 26 of his articles. Weeks before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he was accused of violating the terms of his sentence by publishing more than 100 articles on the Internet, leaving the city, and receiving guests without permission from the police. Du is currently being held in Hanxi Prison, Wuhan City, Hubei Province.
Sydney PEN Honorary Member Ngawang Oeser was released in Tibet after completing his 15 year sentence. Oeser, who was released from Drapchi prison on 18 April 2008 is reported to have suffered various forms of torture and ill treatment while in prison. His physical condition upon release was reported to have been extremely frail and he apparently suffered severe weight loss.
The 7 April 2006 release on expiry of his sentence of the Tibetan monk, Jampel Changchup, marked the end of 16 years in prison. Arrested with a number of other monks in September 1989, including Sydney PEN Honorary Members Ngawang Oeser, Ngawang Gyalsten and Ven Gawang Phulchung, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison, reduced by three years, for having translated into Tibetan and distributed the text of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
Ven. Ngawang Phulchung
Ven Ngawang Phulchung is the senior monk from Drepung monastery near Lhasa. He was also singled out as the leader of the Drepung printing group, which secretly produced literature critical of the Chinese occupation of Tibet in early 1988. The publications of the group included a Tibetan translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the first Tibetan political manifesto, “The Meaning of the Precious Democratic Constitution of Tibet,” which called for a democratic system based on Buddhist tradition. The group also produced pro-independence leaflets that were designed to be stuck on walls in Lhasa.
He had been arrested on 27 September 1987 for taking part in a pro-independence demonstration, and was released in January 1988 after signing ‘confessions’ for committing ‘political crimes’ and acknowledging Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. Reported to have been arrested while attempting to flee the country, he was sentenced in November 1989 as ‘accessory offender’ for ‘actively participating in criminal activities, engaging in espionage, and illegally crossing the national border’ in connection with Drepung printing case.