Record Number of Writers Were Jailed Globally in 2023, PEN America Says

The number of jailed writers in China surpassed 100 for the first time as the country continued to be the biggest jailer of writers, according to PEN America, a free expression group, which released its annual Freedom to Write Index on Wednesday.

PEN America reported that 339 writers were imprisoned in 2023, the most in the five years it has been producing the index.

The number of jailed writers — a list that excludes reporters, but includes literary writers, poets, online commentators and opinion writers — has generally gone up over the past five years, said Karin Karlekar, the director of writers at risk at PEN America. “We are seeing worsening threats against writers,” she said.

There are 107 writers incarcerated in China, the organization said, 50 of whom are “‘online commentators’ writing about political and economic issues and expressing pro-democracy viewpoints.” Others faced trial last year under the 2020 national security law that squashed dissent in Hong Kong.

Some of the key numbers from 2023 include:

  • Newly-jailed writers: 62

  • Writers at risk of being jailed: 923

  • Male writers jailed: 288

  • Female writers jailed: 51

  • Online commentators jailed: 180

PEN America also gave special mention to Iran as a place where the “crackdown on writers and the creative community continued” last year. Iran arrested 13 writers in 2023, the second-highest in the index after China, bringing its total to 49 imprisoned.

“Women who wrote or advocated against the compulsory hijab remained particularly at risk, and Iran jails the highest number of female writers worldwide,” PEN America said.

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