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Banished and imprisoned for his books

ESSAY / In addition to the world's whistleblowers, a number of writers have suffered because of what they have revealed. Jan Tystad deals with some of them here.


The most relevant of the many brave writers I have met or written about is the Eritrean poet Emmanuel Asrat, who has been imprisoned in Eritrea for years. As one of the Norwegians who started the first Eritrean association in Oslo in the mid-1960s, I have tried to follow what is happening in Eritrea and Ethiopia, where brutal dictators took over and continued the wars.

In October, Jamaican Linton Kwesi Johnson received the PEN Printer International Writers' Award, which he decided to share with Asrat. Asrat was arrested on September 23, 2001, along with editors and journalists after criticizing the government.

According to the British branch of PEN, Asrat and his fellow prisoners have been tortured and denied medical treatment. Asrat's brother, Daniel Mebrahtu does not know if he is alive. "We would like Amanuel to know about this award. We ask the international community to demand that he and other prisoners be released. "

Doris lessing

Over the years, I have met and interviewed many socially critical and courageous writers. Some of them have received the Nobel Prize, some have sold millions of books. Many have been banned and imprisoned.

I was reminded of this during a commemorative exhibition for Doris lessing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich in January. This institution is known as one of the best 'writing schools' in the UK. Ian McEwan received his education here, and the same applies to Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Nobel Prize in 2017.

"The women are being held in the refugee camps. I'm trying to show how brutal this war is. " Doris Lessing

I first met Doris Lessing in 1987 when she returned from the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan and had met some of the millions of Afghans who had fled Russian terror and oppression. I had been there two years earlier and written about these refugees in the book Children at war (Gyldendal, 1985) and wanted to interview Lessing about her impression. She was furious with journalists and editors in the UK, as the British media was not interested in her book The Wind Blows Away Our Words.

Lessing was upset because she faced such coldness in the British media. She was not interviewed in the British or American press and received her articles in return from Time Magazine, Newsweek, Washington Press and several British newspapers: "A journalist in the Independent laughed at me and said that he could not understand that a 68-year-old housewife from London could tell the news of the war. Others called the Afghanistan drug boring. " Asked what made the Afghanistan war so special, she replied: "Half of the world's refugees are Afghans."

Lessing was a communist in his younger days. She still considered herself a socialist when I met her. As a writer, she was best known for her fight against discrimination against women and her novels from southern Africa.

In the interview with her about Afghanistan. - the refugees, she said: "The women are kept confined in the refugee camps. I am trying to show how brutal this war is. The women in these camps are totally controlled by the men, it is a tragic development. But there are a few aid organizations that provide medical help and education to the women."

Lessing tells in The Wind Blows about the conditions in the camps in Pakistan, which confirmed what I experienced two years earlier. The women were oppressed by the guerrilla leaders. When visiting journalists and aid workers arrived, they were chased out of the tents. There were 5-6 million refugees when Lessing was there in 1986. She quotes an Afghan leader in Peshawar: "We ask for their (Western) help, but these wishes blow away in the wind." A statement that led to the book's title. It was only when the West invaded Afghanistan that the conflict came in the mass media: the tone was different. Then it emerged, among other things, that women were oppressed by the political and religious leaders.

Lessing was first banned by Ian Smith's white regime and later by Mugabe's regime. In an interview I did with her (Bergens Tidende, January 2001), she was very critical of both the white government under Ian Smith and the black government under Robert Mugabe. She was allowed to visit the country in 2001, but then she was blacklisted again after criticizing Mugabe's regime. To this she commented: "At first Mugabe was an idealist, he was not like Idi Amin or Jean-Bédel Bokassa, but gradually he has become power-hungry, and now I think he has gone mad."

She criticized Mugabe and talked about the book Mara and Dann (Gyldendal, 2000), which depicted the drought in Africa and the migration towards Europe. At the time, she foresaw the migration of people from south to north that has come in our day – the drownings in the Mediterranean and large, crowded refugee camps in southern Europe.

Soyinka and Achebe

Another intrepid writer I have interviewed several times is Nigerian Wole soyinka. He was imprisoned several times for criticizing the government. And in the book The Man Died he depicted the prison conditions. In the journal Index on Censorship, he had written a scathing critique of the dictator and his regime. In an interview (Dagbladet, November 1994) he told me about the flight from Nigeria, the country led by the brutal general Sani Abasha: “They tried to break me – destroy my mind. They let me sit in solitary confinement for two years. I was not allowed to read or write. "

Soyinka is considered one of the foremost African writers. As a critic of Yakubu Gowon's regime and persecuted by several military dictators, he wrote in the Index on Censorship: the building. » Soyinka fled Nigeria and in 1986 received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The way the authorities in Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, treated Soyinka was worse than what General Gowon did after winning the Biafra War. For example, he allowed Chinua Achebe, who had been a propagandist in Biafra, to continue writing. Achebe was not even imprisoned. When I met him in Enugu shortly after Nigeria won the war, he sat at home writing. President Gowon was a good victor; few of the former opponents were imprisoned. Achebe later received a professorship in the United States and moved there.

David Yallop

An author who had strong ties to Norway has now passed away David Yallop (1937-2018).

I met Yallop at a secret address north of London in February 2003. He lived in hiding after writing the book. Unholy alliance (Aschehoug, 2003). The book is about the Norwegian Thor halvorssen (father of Thor Halvorssen behind the Oslo Freedom Forum) who was a businessman in Venezuela. He discovered that the president and other politicians were controlled by the country's drug cartel.

Boko Haram is not unique; many terrorist groups in Africa and the Middle East
abuses women as slaves.

Halvorssen was commissioned by President Carlos Andrés Pérez to lead a commission to stop the drug business, but the drug cartel was stronger, and Halvorsen discovered that even the president cooperated with the villains. He found out that President Pérez had made a fortune of $ 20 million, and that there was a collaboration between him and the drug cartel. Halvorssen was thrown in jail when he accused the regime of corruption. The family contacted the author Yallop, who knew Halvorssen well, and he wrote a revealing novel about corruption in the country. In prison, Halvorsen was beaten by drug addicts, and the family asked Yallop for help. He visited Halvorsen behind the walls. Yallop was threatened by the drug cartel and had to live at a secret address.

The corruption was thus published in the form of a suspense novel. Yallop's book contributed to the case against Halvorssen being dropped after he had been imprisoned for 31 days. He left the country and settled in Miami, where he ran a business for many years.

Edna o'brien

Edna O'brien. Photo: Wikimedia

The bravest of all writers is well Edna O'Brien, who at the age of 88 last autumn published the remarkable novel Girl (Faber & Faber).

It is based on several trips to the troubled northern Nigeria, where the terrorist group Boko Haram is ravaging, and where they have kidnapped young girls and abused them as slaves for years.

O'Brian met some of these abused girls, who had fled and been helped by aid organizations. She lived with them for several weeks and described their lives: "I was once a little girl, but I am not anymore," says one of the girls described in O'Brien's nineteenth novel. The Sunday Times reviewer called the book "a study in evil." The author reveals how terrorist groups often abuse their power by invoking all kinds of gods who will understand their actions because they "liberate" their own victims – they claim that they act according to the will of the gods.

Boko Haram is not unique; many terrorist groups in Africa and the Middle East abuse women as slaves. Terrorists often use slaves as amusement, in the same way that the white slave drivers from Europe ravaged natives in the colonies of Africa, the Caribbean, and South and North America.

Boko Haram. Photo: Wikimedia

Ahmet Altan

Writers are often arrested and imprisoned. The most famous political prisoner right now is Turkish Ahmet Altan. He is imprisoned for the books and articles he has written against President Erdogan and his regime. I'll never see the world again (Samlaget, 2018) is a sensational depiction of the prison stay that began in 2016. He managed to write it on his cell and smuggle out the manuscript from the prison.

The book is one of the best prison depictions I have read. Balcony was released for a short time last year, only to be arrested again and sentenced to life in prison. But he let go again. He has written seven collections of essays and ten novels and needs our support against the dictatorial regime in Turkey – should not it be boycotted as a holiday country?

Jan Tystad
Jan Tystad
Former Dagbladet correspondent in London.

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