English PEN is an organisation that campaigns to promote freedom of expression and a voice for writers across borders. It also works on behalf of writers in trouble, especially if they have been imprisoned or otherwise persecuted by the state for expressing their views or disseminating their work. It describes its mission as “freedom to write, freedom to read” which is about as good a manifesto as you could ask for. You can find out more about it on its website here.
At the moment it is seeking to draw attention to the circumstances of Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho Ribero, whose work focuses particularly on women’s and human rights issues. In her books and articles she covers areas including political corruption, sex trafficking of women and children, and legal issues. Her work focuses on some of the most vulnerable people in Mexican society and, like so many other women who dare to speak up, she has suffered extensive personal abuse, threats of sexual assault (and, on occasion, actual sexual assault) and death threats.
She has seen colleagues including the Mexican investigative journalist Regina Martinez and also Anna Politkovskaya killed for doing their job as investigative journalists. Some of the people believed to be orchestrating the violence and intimidation against her are those she has exposed in the course of her work, and their political allies.
But in July and early August her situation deteriorated to the point where she was forced to leave her own country in fear of her continued safety - in other words, she is a political fugitive. English PEN is asking its supporters to blog about this in order to raise awareness of the situation she faces and of the reluctance of the Mexican government to protect journalists and foster a climate where freedom of speech is championed.
You can learn more about Lydia Cacho’s work and circumstances from the following links:
- English PEN: Lydia Cacho has gone
- English PEN event report: Lydia Cacho in conversation with Helen Bamber (London)
- The Guardian: Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho - ‘I don’t scare easily’
- The Independent: Free press in Mexico, impunity for Lydia Cacho
However, she has not been silenced. The English translation of her book Slavery Inc.: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking has just been published in English and you can find her on Twitter here.