Fighting for free speech with English PEN

CreativeConnection has had a whirlwind of enlivening experiences with English PEN this past month. We’re proud and humbled to have been able to create illustrations that they used to promote free speech and stop the persecution of these particular writers and get them released from prison.

We’ve campaigned for the release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in front of the Saudi Arabian Embassy, met and had our books signed by Italian writer Roberto Saviano, and celebrated the release of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova who was released just two days before her 40th birthday. Along with English PEN, we’ve met people from other wonderful organisations such as Amnesty International UK, Article 19, PEN International, and Index for Censorship.

CreativeConnection illustrations of writers at risk campaign

During this month, we’ve had a glimpse of the amount of work these organisations do to help protect freedom of expression and to free writers from unjust prison sentences. International attention puts pressure on the governments to overturn the prison sentences and these organisations mobilise supporters across the world and inspire actions such as social media campaigns, letter writing to embassies, and demonstrations, that help release these writers from prison. It is encouraging to see that this type of action and activism works, however it doesn’t stop the cycle. For every writer that is freed, more are put in prison. The work is continuous and requires vigilance and constant community action and support. With the rise of social media in recent years, organisations have found that it is a powerful tool to mobilise a large international community and hashtags and images are a great way to get the message shared.

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Khadija Ismayilova Birthday celebration 27 May 2016
The Khadija Ismayilova Birthday celebration in London in front of the Azerbaijani Embassy 27 May 2016

One of the things that we realised from this project was how much we take for granted freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Our everyday lives are connected to the online world and we effortlessly share our thoughts and opinions with millions of anonymous readers all day long. Some of these opinions take the form of online racist, misogynist and offensive diatribes and while we come often come across these things online, we feel it is part of our basic human right of free speech. While there are consequences for some people who offend and bully others online, they can lose their jobs or get pilloried by the public, yet there are countless others who are able to say what they want.

We are used to this and we accept this as part of our freedom of expressions, yet there are countries that keep tight control of what is said in public and online, who censor what their citizens read and write and persecute those who don’t follow the rules. Those who choose to write creatively about human strife and behavior, those who promote rights and liberties such as a free speech and freedom of religion, those who investigate and question people of power are harassed, threatened, imprisoned and even murdered.

#FreeRaif Twitter campaign
17 June marks the fourth anniversary of Raif Badawi in prison. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Saudi Arabian government plus 1000 public lashings for promoting free speech and a secular society on his blog. The human rights lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, who defended Badawi, was also put into prison with an even longer sentence of 15 years.

 

We don’t live in a society where we have normally have to worry about being put in prison for supporting a cause or defending our human rights. This is why it is important that we acknowledge, support, defend and help free those who do.

We chose to end our campaign with a portrait of Pakistani Malala Yousafzai who is an inspiration to use. At 14 years old, she was shot on her school bus on her way to school for her growing international reputation as an activist for equal education and writer of life under the Taliban. She and her family live in exile in the UK where she continues to advocate for quality education and safe schools for girls across the world. Her bravery and commitment to change is an inspiration to us and shows us how we are so lucky to create the work that we do, how we have the freedom to promote causes and broadcast messages that we believe in and have access to information and knowledge without being threatened and harassed.

CreativeConnection portrait of Malala Yousefzai

We want to thank English PEN as well as other human rights organisations like Amnesty International for the tireless work that they do in championing the freedom to write and the freedom to read across the world.

Your thoughts:

Have you ever supported any political cause or a campaign on Twitter? Do you think Twitter is effective in getting information across to a wide group of people that may otherwise not have access to? Leave your comments below.

To learn more about campaigns defending freedom of speech and what you can do to help, please visit their websites:

English PEN

Amnesty International UK

Please read our other posts for more information on the writers we profiled:

Raif Badawi

Khadija Ismayilova

Roberto Saviano

Malala Yousafzai

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CreativeConnection is a supporter of organisations like English PEN and Amnesty International UK that have worked for decades supporting writers at risk across the world and to have them released from prison.  We want to offer our support to them and to the writers by creating work that makes visible the fight for freedom of speech. Our scribing and graphic facilitation, animation studios and coaching and consultancy teams are keen to work on projects with similar organisations. We are eager to get the message across to communities across the UK as well and our Instagram and social media marketing team are looking for the next opportunity to show off their skills in getting great messages and engagement with this specific sector group. If this sounds like you or your organisation, we’d like to offer for any project books a 5% discount on our social media campaign planning, Instagram, graphic facilitation and animations services during June, July, and August 2016. To find out more contact Giovanna Coppola and sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of this page to keep up to date on what we’re up to.

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