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Creative Witnesses: Take action for writers at risk in the Asia Pacific region

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Zehra Doğan writes a poem which contains a quote from poet Perhat Tursun. The name of the poem is "Elegy". It was translated by Joshua L. Freeman. This picture is a still image from a video trailer produced by Media Production Centre. © MPC

The second episode of Creative Witnesses was premiered by PEN International on its YouTube Channel on Monday 8 February at 10am UK time. The event featured the case of three writers at risk in the Asia Pacific region: Saw Win (Saw Wai) (Myanmar), poet and PEN member facing imprisonment for defaming the military; Perhat Tursun (People’s Republic of China), Uyghur author who was forcibly disappeared in Xinjiang in 2018; and Varavara Rao (India), poet and human rights activist detained without trial since 2018 on the grounds that he incited caste violence, allegations that he strongly denies. It also honoured the life and work of Chinese writer and Nobel Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo as part of the Liu Xiaobo Anniversary Campaign.

Saw Win (Saw Wai)

Poet and PEN member, Saw Wai, stands accused of defaming the Myanmar military under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code, after speaking at an event in Kaw Thaung township, in the Tanintharyi region of Southwestern Myanmar. If convicted, he could face up to two years in prison. PEN International believes that Saw Wai is being targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and calls for the charges against him to be dropped.

“It’s an honour to support and engage with Saw Wei’s poem. In this piece, I felt it was necessary to make visual the ways in which political speech is threatened by erasure and suppression. In writing and rewriting these words, I wanted to breathe air into them, keeping warm the lungs from which they came. I wrote these poems on a chalkboard from a 19th century schoolhouse to embrace the symbolism of future generations who will be inspired by political speech and poetical resistance. Regardless of how words may be erased and oppressed, the torch will be carried.” Canadian/American poet Julia Balm on Saw Wei.

Take action now. Write a solidarity letter to Saw Wai.


c/o PEN Myanmar center, 4th floor, No. 71, Myaynigone Zay Road, Sanchaung township, Yangon Email:

Perhat Tursun

Perhat Tursun is a Uyghur author who was forcibly disappeared in Xinjiang in 2018. His current whereabouts and health are unknown. It is thought that Perhat Tursun was initially detained in Xinjiang’s re-education camps, but there are recent reports that he has been sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment.

“He might be one of the greatest minds of our time yet he is ignored by many. His (and many others in the Chinese camps) unjustified sufferings is the most abnormal thing that I have witnessed in my life. The profound inequality of the world is something that needs to be made aware to all and fought against by all.” Uyghur filmmaker and performer Mukaddas Mijit on Perhat Tursun.

Take action now. Ask the Chinese authorities to release Perhat Tursun immediately and unconditionally. Click here for their addresses.

Varavara Rao

Indian poet and human rights activist P. Varavara Rao, has been in detention without trial since November 2018, accused of inciting caste violence. However, commentators have questioned the legitimacy of the charges, viewing his detention as part of a wider crackdown on activists across India. Aged 81 and in poor health, Varavara Rao has tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently seeking medical bail.

“The efforts to which the Indian authorities have gone to imprison Varavara Rao show not just an attack on the freedoms of speech but absolute cultural necessity for art. To be able to engage with his case musically has brought a huge amount of gravity to principles I hold as self- evident. To put such principles into perspective by working with his legacy and writings has been truly humbling". London-based musician George Jones on Varavara Rao

“Learning of Varavara Rao’s plight has been a humbling and luminary experience. Through his story, I have come to greatly understand and care for the relationship between art’s fertile resistance and the stagnant face of oppression that humanity can wear if not questioned. If an authority fears a poet, then he reveals himself an enemy." London-based musician Pearl Bloor on Varavara Rao.

Take action now. Ask the Indian authorities to immediately release P Varavara Rao on medical grounds. Click here for their addresses.

Creative Witness is part of a series of events planned throughout 2021 to mark the PEN International’s Centenary. Founded in 1921 by English writer Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, PEN International has spent 100 years celebrating literature and protecting freedom of expression. You can stand up for persecuted writers by making a donation today. Please consider supporting the Uyghur Human Rights Project, an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the rights of Uyghurs through research and advocacy.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: