Beyond bars

December 10, 2010

Despite threats of violence, imprisonment and death, writers around the world continue to fight to make their voices heard. The latest issue of Index on Censorship pays tribute to one of the world's longest running campaigns for free expression, English PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC). Founded in 1960, the WiPC supports and protects writers facing persecution around the globe. Contributors to Beyond Bars - including award-winning authors Margaret Atwood, Sir Tom Stoppard and William Boyd - highlight the vital role writers can play in supporting their colleagues. As Tom Stoppard writes:

"When it comes to the fate of individuals no one, not even a writer, needs to be useless. Political prisoners are less vulnerable when they are kept in our view and known to be so."

The issue also features articles by writers who have themselves been the victims of persecution, including celebrated Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho. Arrested and threatened after exposing an international paedophile ring, she speaks out about the "double-edged sword" of working in the media spotlight:

"Acts of aggression are intended to silence us, wear us out, or distract our attention from what's really important. Prizes and accolades are converted into shields to protect and forums to express the messages others are trying to conceal."

The issue emphasises the real danger in expecting writers to have a political focus too, leading to another kind of censorship altogether. What is absolutely essential is that writers are able to work in a landscape that allows ideas to flourish - and that no writer is silenced. "You can take the guts out of the investigative journalists, both figuratively and literally, but so far no one has been able to completely suppress the human urge that's at least as old as the Book of Job: the need to tell," Margaret Atwood writes. Beyond Bars also highlights 50 key cases the WiPC has championed, including imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is due for release in 2020. For further information visit or search for #beyondbars on Twitter.
Beyond Bars is the latest issue of Index on Censorship, issue 39(4), published today (10th December, 2010) by SAGE. Selected content from this issue will be available for free from the Index website. See for more information. A special promotion is available to celebrate Human Rights day: until 31st December 2010 a 30-day subscription to Index on iPhone/iPads is just 59p. Also until 31st December 2010 an annual digital subscription costs just £14 (including access to 3 year issue archive) at Launched in 1972, Index on Censorship is the only magazine devoted to protecting and promoting free expression. For further information contact Tel: 020 7324 2522

Established in 1921, English PEN ( is the founding centre of PEN International, the worldwide association of writers. English PEN's international campaigns are led by its Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC), which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. There are currently 600 writers on the WiPC case list of writers under threat.

SAGE is a leading international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media for academic, educational, and professional markets. Since 1965, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students spanning a wide range of subject areas including business, humanities, social sciences, and science, technology, and medicine. An independent company, SAGE has principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC.

SAGE Publications UK

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