• Open Letter to the British Prime Minister from PEN International

    November 12, 2015

    Pen International wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on the British government to take action to safeguard freedom of expression in India ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UK later this week.

    Dear Prime Minister

    Re: Urging Action by British government to Safeguard Freedom of Expression in India

    As writers and writers’ organisations committed to protecting and defending freedom of expression around the world, we, the undersigned, are extremely concerned about the rising climate of fear, growing intolerance and violence towards critical voices who challenge orthodoxy or fundamentalism in India. As the three-day state visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United Kingdom between 12 and 14 November draws near, we urge you to engage with Prime Minister Modi both publicly and privately on this crucial issue. Please speak out on the current state of freedom of expression in his country, urging him to stay true to the spirit of the democratic freedoms enshrined in India’s Constitution.

    As you will no doubt be aware three public intellectuals, Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, have been killed by unknown assailants in the last two years alone. At least 37 journalists have been killed in the country since 1992. Other writers have received threats.

    Over the past month, at least 40 Indian novelists, poets and playwrights have returned the prize awarded to them by the Sahitya Akademi, the National Academy of Letters, to protest against these attacks. In their statements, the writers have criticised the Akademi’s silence over the murders, the deteriorating political environment in which those expressing dissent have been attacked by government ministers, and challenged the government to demonstrate tolerance and protect free speech.

    After this, and a silent march by protesting writers, the Akademi issued a statement condemning the murder of Kalburgi and a resolution asking ‘governments at the centre and in the states to take immediate action to bring the culprits to book and ensure the security of writers now and in the future.’ It also requested the writers who had returned awards to reconsider their decisions. Dissenting writers responded to the Akademi saying it should have spoken out much earlier, and urged the Akademi to rethink how it can support ‘writers all over India, and by extension, the people of the country.’ They reminded the Akademi of the urgency, calling the present time a ‘moment of spiralling hatred and intolerance.’ Mr Modi’s government has not yet formally responded to the Akademi’s resolution.

    The protests have grown beyond the community of Indian writers of all languages. Scientists, artists, film-makers, academics, scholars, and actors have either complained the climate of intolerance or returned awards on a scale unprecedented in India.

    In October, Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali had his performance in Mumbai cancelled by the Shiv Sena party, an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The Shiv Sena has said it will not allow any Pakistani artist to perform until the situation in Kashmir has improved. A few days later, Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairman of Observer Research Foundation, was attacked by Shiv Sena activists and smeared with black paint for hosting the book launch of former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book launch and refusing to cancel it.

    India’s Constitution recognises freedom of expression as a cornerstone of India’s democracy; however despite its constitutional commitments, India’s legal system makes it surprisingly easy to silence others. In a report earlier this year, PEN and the International Human Rights Programme (IHRP) at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law outlined the overreaching legislation and longstanding problems with the administration of justice, which have produced cumbersome legal processes that deter citizens from exercising their right to free expression. The resulting chilling effect silences political criticism and often discourages marginal voices from speaking out on sensitive social, cultural, and religious matters.

    In line with the United Kingdom’s stated commitment to promoting human rights, we ask that you raise the above issues with Prime Minister Modi and urge him to provide better protection for writers, artists and other critical voices and ensure that freedom of speech is safeguarded. Without these protections a democratic, peaceful society is not possible.

    Raficq Abdulla
    Jim Aitken
    Lee Allane
    Maggie Anderson
    Kate Armstrong
    Alan Ayckbourn
    Sally Baker, Director, Wales PEN Cymru
    Marion Baraitser
    Marge Berer
    Terence Blacker
    Ricky Brown
    Peter Buckman
    Tom Bullough
    Katie Burden
    Jim Burnside
    Maoilios Caimbeul
    Jenni Calder, Membership Secretary, Scottish PEN
    Fiona Cameron
    Drew Campbell, President, Scottish PEN
    Joyce Caplan
    Aimee Chalmers
    Regi Claire
    Anne Clarke
    Jennifer Clement, President, PEN International
    Jo Clifford
    Ken Cockburn
    Anne Connolly
    Michael Connor
    Nicki Cornwell
    Christine Crow
    Manishita Dass
    Suzy Davies
    Christine De Luca
    Patrick Dobbs
    Colin Donati
    Sasha Dugdale
    William Duncan
    Anne Dunford
    Jonathan Edwards
    Suzanne Egerton
    Dorothy-Grace Elder
    Menna Elfyn, President, Wales PEN Cymru
    Moris Farhi
    Penelope Farmer
    Vicki Feaver
    Euna Fisher
    Matthew Fitt
    Una Flett
    Steven Fowler
    Miranda France
    Lindsey Fraser
    Maureen Freely, President, English PEN
    Vivian French
    Leah Fritz
    Iain Galbraith
    Omar Garcia
    Alan Gay
    Maitreesh Ghatak
    Magi Gibson
    Anne Lorne Gillies
    Brian Girvin
    Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN
    Fiona Graham, Vice President, Scottish PEN
    Niall Griffiths
    Jay Griffiths
    Bishnupriya Gupta
    Daniel Hahn
    Georgina Hammick
    Ann Harrison, Director, Freedom to Write Programme, PEN International
    David Harrower
    Jonathan Heawood
    Mairi Hedderwick
    Joy Hendry
    Diana Hendry
    Daisy Hirst
    John William Hodgson
    Eva Hoffman
    Amanda Hopkinson
    Sarah Howard
    Sunny Hundal
    Brian Johnstone
    Alice Jolly
    Carole Jones
    Sally Roberts Jones
    Beth Junor
    Meena Kandasamy
    Nitasha Kaul
    Peter Kerr
    Andrew Kidd
    Hari Kunzru
    Nikita Lalwani
    Lee Langley
    Joanne Leedom-Ackerman
    Thomas Legendre
    Joan Lennon
    Paul Levy
    Gwyneth Lewis
    Marina Lewycka
    Jean Liddiard
    David Lodge
    Sarah Lutyens
    Pauline Lynch
    Neil Mac Neil
    Ian Macdonald
    Carl MacDougall
    Shena Mackay
    Iseabail Macleod
    Aonghas MacNeacail
    Iain Maloney
    Colin Manlove
    Karen Margolis
    Robyn Marsack
    Henry Marsh
    Annabelle May
    Val McDermid
    David McDonald
    David McDowall
    Ian McEwan
    Sarah McIntosh
    Sophie McKeand
    Pauline Melville
    Greg Michaelson
    Paul Moore
    Cathy Moore
    David Morgan
    Neel Mukherjee
    Anne Murray
    Rebekah Murrell
    Maureen Myant
    Beverley Naidoo
    Liz Niven
    Katharine Norbury
    Georgina Norie
    Heather Norman-Soderlind
    Claire O’Kell
    Ruth Padel
    Simin Patel
    Penny Perrick
    Catherine Peters
    Rosemary Phipps
    Naomi Popple
    Tom Pow
    Chris Powici
    Angharad Price
    Faith Pullin, Chair of Women Writers Committee, Scottish PEN
    Anna Purser
    Jean Rafferty, Chair of Writers at Risk Committee, Scottish PEN
    Monisha Rajesh
    Ravinder Randhawa
    Lynne Reid Banks
    Elizabeth Rimmer
    Fiona Rintoul
    Prof Richard H Roberts
    Ferial Rogers
    Lesley Anne Rose
    Sioned Rowlands
    Salman Rushdie
    Michael Russell
    Gita Sahgal
    Angela Saini
    Chrys Salt MBE
    Philippe Sands
    Ros Schwartz
    Andrew Sclater
    Lawrence Scott
    Robert Sharp
    Owen Sheers, Chair, PEN Wales Cymru
    Sara Sheridan
    Nikesh Shukla
    Salma Siddique
    Francesca Simon
    Penny Simpson
    Joan Smith
    Dennis Smith
    Nicola Spurr
    Tom Stacey
    Anne Stevenson
    Leslie Stevenson
    Anne Stokes
    Zoe Strachan
    Lynsey Sutherland
    Aniko Szilagyi
    Mary Taylor
    Carl Tighe
    Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International
    Hannah Trevarthen
    Jonathan Trigell
    Salil Tripathi, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International
    Mirza Waheed
    Jehanne Wake
    Harriet Walter
    Lynnda Wardle
    Val Warner
    Eleanor Watts
    Nicola White
    Zoe Wicomb
    Colin Will
    Karina Williamson
    Les Wilson
    Fiona Wilson
    Peter Wood Cotterill

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