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Writing in Exile: PEN International Day of the Imprisoned Writer
Writers and journalists are often among the first citizens targeted and punished by autocratic leaders. With creeping authoritarianism and instability in many regions around the world, it's an increasingly dangerous time for writers of all kinds.
On the eve of PEN International's Day of the Imprisoned Writer, we held a special panel event as part of our Writers in Exile series to discuss old and emerging threats to literary freedoms today.
Host Sami Shah welcomed back the three writers who have shared their personal stories of exile – journalist Roza Germian, playwright Samah Sabawi and playwright and poet Mammad Aidani – for the last conversation in the series. They discuss their own experiences and their knowledge of press and literary restriction in their respective home countries – as well as the role Australia can and should play on the international stage with regards to protecting and protesting the freedom of writers here and overseas.
Presented in partnership with PEN Melbourne.
Sami Shah is a multi-award winning writer, comedian, and broadcaster. He’s been profiled in the New York Times, ABC’s Australian Story, BBC Radio 4, NPR, and appeared on QI with Stephen Fry and The Project.
Sami has been performing award-winning and highly acclaimed comedy for over a decade, and used his acerbic wit to address world affairs and social issues, in comedy clubs and even international platforms like TEDx.
Samah Sabawi is an award-winning playwright, author and poet. Her critically acclaimed play Tales of a City by the Sea was selected for the 2016 Victorian Certificate of Education Drama Playlist, won two Drama Victoria awards for best new Australian publication and best performance for VCE and was nominated for Best Independent Production at the Green Room Awards. The play was staged to full houses and standing ovations in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Malaysia, Canada and Palestine and is on the study list of a number of universities and schools around the globe.
Roza Germian was born in the second year of the eight year-long Iran-Iraq war, in the city of Kirkuk under the Baathist rule. The majority of Kirkuk’s population were of Kurdish background and regularly targeted by the Baathist regime. In 1991, during the first Gulf War, her family along with four million Kurdish people became refugees in Iran and Turkey. Roza’s family arrived in Australia in 1996, where she later studied journalism. Roza is now the Executive Producer for the SBS Radio Kurdish Program.
Mammad Aidani is a human rights advocate, acclaimed poet, playwright, theatre director, and distinguished psychosocial researcher investigating the violence, torture and trauma experienced by Iranians and Middle Eastern immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who have resettled in Australia and the West.
Mammad has been part of the international art project, Heartbreak, at this years’ Venice Biennale, and his play In The Mirror will be restaged at La Mama theatre in 2020. He is currently working on a theatre project with a group of Iranian asylum seekers and refugees called Forough and Us, in which they reflect on the fearless personality and the unique and challenging poetry of the most significant Iranian female poet Forough Farrokhzad (1934–1967). He has not been able to return to Iran over the last 40 years. Mammad’s writings have been banned and are not published in Iran.