Writers imprisoned worldwide in 2023 hits five-year high: free expression group report News
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Writers imprisoned worldwide in 2023 hits five-year high: free expression group report

PEN America, a freedom of expression advocacy group, reported Wednesday that at least 339 writers were incarcerated as of 2023, including more than 100 from China alone, a five-year high.

The group has been releasing editions of their Freedom to Write Index since 2019 (based on a detailed methodology), and the 2023 report marks the highest number of writers to be imprisoned in this five-year period. A steady growth in these numbers, starting with 238 incarcerations in 2019, has been marked over this period.

The report shows a steep increase in the number of women and online commentators imprisoned compared to previous years, while the proportion of people from other professions has remained stable. Fifty of the writers imprisoned are women, the most being from Iran, and 180 are online commentators.

The bulk of the imprisonments are in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East & North Africa regions, accounting for 76% of the worldwide amount. The country that has jailed the most writers is China (107 people), followed by Iran (49), Saudi Arabia and Vietnam (19 each), and Israel (17, including arrests made in the Occupied Palestinian Territory). Israel and Russia joined the list of the 10 countries with most imprisonments in 2023 for the first time, reflecting a crackdown on the dissenters amidst war and conflict.. PEN America reports that in China, a significant number of the arrests were made over criticism of official policies and pro-democracy viewpoints. In Iran, women who protest mandatorily wearing a hijab remain particularly vulnerable.

Liesl Gerntholtz, the director of the PEN/ Barbey Freedom to Write Center, commenting on this report, said:

The jailing of a writer goes beyond the silencing of one voice. It is an assault on everyone’s free expression and human rights. This is why writers, who, through their craft, can inspire understanding, offer alternate perspectives, and galvanize hope pose such a threat to leaders who resort to autocratic tactics. The erosion of free expression frequently leads to the deterioration of other human rights, clearing an unimpeded path for repressive states to strangle human rights. And it is why we must speak out against efforts to put them behind bars and silence their expression.