Writers in prison

On 20 June, the prominent Syrian writer, sociologist and human rights activist Nizar Nayouf was abducted by security agents outside a clinic where he was due for treatment. He was released on 22 June, in the wake of international outrage. Nayouf has already served a lengthy prison sentence. The founder of the now banned Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights Committee, he was jailed in 1992 for "disseminating false information". Torture and harsh prison conditions have left him partially paralysed and afflicted with Hodgkin's disease. Although released in May this year, he remains under unofficial house arrest, and, as his recent abduction demonstrates, he faces constant harassment. Nayouf is in urgent need of medical care, preferably in Europe, where there is specialist treatment available that can help his condition. But, as yet, he is not allowed to travel. Appeals on his behalf can be sent to:

President Bashar al-Assad
Presidential Palace
Abu Rahman al-Rashid Street
Syrian Arab Republic

Moris Farhi MBE is a former chair of International PEN's Writers in Prison committee

PEN is the only international writers' association. It was founded in 1921, and its charter has always been of unique and fundamental importance to the creativity of writers of all disciplines, as well as to the survival of editors, publishers and the literary infrastructure. Its objectives are to uphold freedom of expression wherever it may be threatened; to champion writers in prison and in oppressive regimes; to promote greater international and intercultural understanding and co-operation via writers and the written word; and to act as an advocate for literature, literacy and related causes.

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, How long have we got?