Shams Erfan, Why I Support PEN

PEN Canada’s end-of-year campaign launched Tuesday, November 28 and runs until December 31.
To understand PEN Canada’s impact, we’re sharing testimonials from the PEN community. They are writers in exile, writers in peril, and emerging writers. They are teachers, novelists, journalists, activists, bloggers and poets. Shams Erfan writes: 

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Why I Support PEN

In Afghanistan, I worked as an English teacher. In 2014, after surviving a direct attack on my life by the Taliban, due to my work educating a society governed by ignorance and extremism, I was forced to seek asylum and protection in Indonesia through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There, instead of receiving the protection I needed, I spent eight years in various detention centres, enduring the loss of my most fundamental human rights. 

Throughout my imprisonment, I documented human rights abuses, cases of medical neglect, and suicides that resulted from the uncertainty and injustice experienced by detainees. I was subjected to mental and physical torture by the Indonesian Immigration authorities, in an attempt to silence me and thwart the sacred spirit of freedom of expression. To continue reporting I had to write anonymously, become a vanished person.

In 2022, after arriving in Canada, I connected with PEN Canada, which helped me regain my identity as a person and an author. I was awarded a writer in residence position at George Brown College, allowing me to continue storytelling and writing. 

I support PEN Canada because it assists writers and journalists like me who, at the risk of their lives, report on controversial issues and expose the inhumane policies of regimes and political structures. I support PEN because it helps journalists from war-stricken zones do the vital work of providing the world with access to reliable information and truth. 

This giving season, please join me in supporting PEN’s mission: helping journalists and authors who live and work in some of the most repressive regimes. 

Together let’s build a world where writers and storytellers can share their work with others, without fear of reprisals, imprisonment or death; a world where these brave souls are celebrated, not punished, for their ability and willingness to speak truth to power.

Shams Erfan

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