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Salman Rushdie makes the observation that, while art endures, artists are vulnerable.
Rushdie knows this firsthand, of course, after his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses was condemned as blasphemous by the AyatollahRuhollah Khomeini, who issued a fatwa which placed a bounty on his life: it remains in place.
PEN International champions the right to freedom of expression and works to support writers from around the world who have been persecuted for exercising that right. The extreme and violent efforts to suppress the work of writers and artists are testament to what art can do, and threaten, and change in the world, proof of the power of the imagination.
These enduring books are among those for which their courageous authors (and publishers, booksellers and sometimes readers) paid a very high price indeed.
· Imprisoned and denied writing materials, Pramoedya Ananta Toer wrote the Buru Quartet of novels by reciting it orally to other prisoners, who wrote it down and smuggled it out. Born in The Dutch East Indies, his critique of colonialism and corruption led to persecution by the colonial government as well as the authoritarian Indonesian governments which succeeded it.
· A reader’s complaint that the novel Using Life harmed public morality led to the imprisonment of its Egyptian author, Ahmed Naji, in 2016; the novel is set in Cairo and describes a younger generation struggling in a deep-rooted culture and society.
· Nurmuhemmet Yasin was imprisoned by Chinese authorities after publishing an allegorical short story – to widespread acclaim among his Uyghur people – called “Wild Pigeon”, about a trapped bird who chooses to die freely rather than live in servitude.
· Poet Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced in Saudi Arabia to eight years imprisonment and 800 lashes on charges of apostasy and promoting atheism in his collection Instructions Within.
· A self-published erotic novel entitled Gongzhan (Occupy) about a transgressive affair between a teacher and a student earned Tianyi (a pen-name) a 10-and-a-half year prison sentence from the People’s Court of Wuhu, Anhui province, China, for making and selling obscene material for profit.
· Sri Lankan writer Shakthika Sathkumara published a short story in 2019 on Facebook entitled “Ardha”, which alludes to an instance of possible sexual abuse within a Buddhist temple; he was arrested and charged with advocating religious hatred and insulting religion, charges which were dropped in 2021.
· Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee is currently held in dire conditions in an Iranian prison for writing her unpublished novel featuring the stoning to death of a woman; her six-year prison sentence was increased by more than two years after she staged prison protests.
· A poem criticising the President Museveni of Uganda (and his mother) led to the imprisonment of Dr Stella Nyanzi, the prominent writer, academic, activist and practitioner of the traditional Ugandan strategy of “radical rudeness”, the unsettling of the powerful through public insult.