Each year during Banned Books Week, Amnesty International draws attention to people around the world who have been imprisoned, threatened, or murdered because of what they wrote or published or because of their work in the publishing or media industries. In solidarity with the American Library Association (ALA) and organizations across the U.S. and around the world, Amnesty activists work to fight challenges to freedom of expression. For Banned Books Week 2020, we are highlighting seven of the many hundreds of cases worldwide where the freedom of writers and journalists are endangered. Banned Books Week 2020 is September 27 – October 3, join us!
Learn more about the history of Banned Books Week here.
Yang Hengjun is a Chinese academic and writer who has been charged with espionage, which carries a sentence from three years in prison up to death. He is known for his outspoken commentary on Chinese public affairs and wrote a trilogy of spy novels about a China-US double agent that was published on his blog.
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Yang Hengjun, and that pending his release, ensure he has regular, unrestricted access to consular visits, family, and the lawyers of his choice.
Masrat Zahra is an award-winning photojournalist. She focuses on stories about local communities and women. She was arrested and charged with “uploading anti-national posts [on Facebook] with criminal intentions to induce the youth.” She faces a punishment of up to seven years in prison.
Amnesty International is calling for charges against Masrat Zahra to be immediately dropped, as they constitute a violation of her right to freedom of expression.
Yulia Tsvetkova, a Russian activist and artist, is facing prosecution and harassment for for social media posts defending women’s and LGBTI rights. In 2019, Yulia was detained, put under house arrest, and charged with “production and dissemination of pornographic materials” for posting drawings of the female body on social media. If convicted she could face up to six years in prison. In January 2020, new proceedings were opened against her for drawing same-sex couples with children.
Amnesty International is calling for Russian authorities to end Yulia Tsvetkova’s prosecution; drop all the charges against her, both criminal and administrative; and have the travel ban restrictions on her lifted.
Andrea Sahouri, a journalist with the Des Moines Register, was pepper sprayed, arrested, and detained by police while covering a protest. Despite repeatedly identifying herself as a reporter, Andrea was pepper sprayed on her arms and face twice at close range. She was charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts.
Amnesty International is calling for Iowa authorities to dismiss all charges against Andrea Sahouri immediately.
Shakthika Sathkumara, an award-winning Sri Lankan writer, was arrested and charged with propagating hatred and incitement of racial or religious violence for a fictional short story that he wrote. The charges against him remain pending. If found guilty, he could face up to ten years in prison.
Amnesty International is asking the Sri Lankan government to drop all charges against Shakthika Sathkumara immediately and cease using the ICCPR Act to prosecute writers and activists for peacefully expressing their opinions.
Nguyen Van Hoa, is an environmental journalist and human rights defender who was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison in December 2017 for reporting on the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster in central Vietnam. Nguyen was tortured by the authorities to confess to his “crime.” In May 2019 he was being held in solitary confinement as punishment for his refusal to cooperate.
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Nguyen Van Hoa, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.
Akram al-Walidi, Abdelkhaleq Amran, Hareth Hamid and Tawfiq al-Mansouri, are Yemeni journalists who were sentenced to death in April 2020 after being charged with a series of offenses, including spying. The four journalists have been detained since 2015. They were forcibly disappeared, intermittently held in solitary confinement, and deprived of access to medical care.
Amnesty International is calling for Huthi de facto authorities to drop the death sentences and immediately release Akram al-Walidi, Abdelkhaleq Amran, Hareth Hamid and Tawfiq al-Mansouri, and all other journalists imprisoned for their work.
Click here to watch the event, hosted live on September 24, 2020.
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A short history of Amnesty International’s work to defend free speech during Banned Books Week.
Books by authors who have suffered human rights abuses because of what they write or publish.