Content warning: this article contains non-graphic content about violence, homophobia, and human rights abuses.
Parker School's Amnesty International Club celebrated Banned Books Week from September 18th to September 24th. As a part of an international campaign to fight challenges to freedom of expression, Parker students created posters and collected signatures for petitions to raise awareness for authors who have been imprisoned for writing about human rights abuses and to highlight books that have been banned for the same reasons. During this week, Amnesty International Club members collected 175 signatures for the freedom of Alaa Abdel Fattah, Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani, Vladyslav Yesypenko, Maykel Castillo Pérez, Luis Manual Otero Alcántara, and Janna Jihad.
The 2022 Banned Booklist contains thirty-two titles from individuals arrested, murdered, harassed, exiled, or executed for their published works. Among them, Ala Abd el-Fattah from Egypt has been sentenced to five years in prison for his book You Have Not Yet Been Defeated: Selected Works 2011-2021. Many of the essays contained in this book were smuggled out of his cell. He writes about his experience at the forefront of the 2011 revolution in Egypt, cautioning against the dangers of big tech and tyranny. Abd el-Fattah has been on a hunger strike since April 2022 as he calls on the British government to press for his release as a British citizen, according to Amnesty International.
Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani, a gender-nonconforming Iranian activist, is currently imprisoned at the central prison in Urumieh due to her sexuality, gender identity, and statements on the rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) people. She was held in solitary confinement and endured threats against her and her two young children. Sedighi-Hamadani has been sentenced to death for "corruption on earth" and "promoting homosexuality" through social media posts and a BBC documentary about the abuses LGBTI people suffer in Iraq, according to Amnesty International.
Journalist Vladyslav Yesypenki was sentenced to six years in prison after being arrested by Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officers while working for Krym Realii, a Crimean branch of Radio Free Europe. FSB officers planted a grenade on him to falsify a reason for arrest. They then electrocuted and beat Vladyslav to extract a televised forced confession from him.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez have been sentenced to five and nine years, respectively, in prison. They used art to express their views on the social, political, and economic conditions in Cuba. Alcántara is a visual artist and activist from Havana known for his demonstrations against the Cuban government. During one of these protests, he was arrested during his performance Drapeau, in which he wore a Cuban flag over his shoulders while protesting a law dictating how the flag could be used. Pérez, a rapper also known as "Osorbo," is a leader of the San Isidro Movement. His viral song "Patria y Vida" became an anthem of protests in Cuba and was nominated for "Best Song of the Year" at the Latin Grammy Awards, according to PEN America.
Janna Jihad is a fifteen-year-old student journalist from the Israeli-occupied West Bank who has been documenting Israeli military abuse of the Palestinian people since she was seven years old. She has been harassed and threatened with death for her work, despite Israel's signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Amnesty International calls on Israel to meet its obligations under the Convention by protecting Palestinian children.
Freedom of speech has been a widely debated topic in the past few years. A report from the nonprofit group PEN America found that more than 1,600 books were banned in over 5,000 schools, according to Abbey Monteil, a journalist for Them magazine. Of these books, 41% were centered on LGBTQ+ topics, 40% contained characters of color, and 21% directly addressed issues of race and racism. The report also revealed that 96% of the bans did not follow best practice guidelines for book challenges outlined by the ALA and National Coalition Against Censorship.
Amnesty International Club hopes to raise awareness for the importance of freedom of expression, particularly when it is a mechanism for raising awareness for oppressed and marginalized communities. To find out more about the cause, visit the Amnesty International website.