Writers' refuge network celebrates 10 years of finding safe havens

ICORN, the network that offers residences to writers at risk, has celebrated its 10th birthday in Paris

Bangladeshi publisher Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, known to everyone as Tutul, told the New York Times that in the days before the brutal attack on his life last year, his suspicions had been aroused by a visit from two smartly dressed men who claimed to have a manuscript they hoped to sell.

Tutul launched his publishing house Shuddashar in 2004, featuring the works of open-minded and progressive writers, some of whom have been killed in a wave of violence against secular writers. On 31 October, his fears were confirmed when a man attacked him in his office, hacking at his head with a sword. Tutul fell between a table and a chair, which gave some protection, and he survived. A jihadist group, Ansar al-Islam, the Bangladesh division of al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

Shuddashar had taken a stand at Bangladesh’s national book fair, but Tutul did not attend in person. He has found a haven in Skien, Norway – his flight to safety arranged by the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN).

ICORN, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary with a three-day event in Paris, offers temporary and long-term safe residencies to writers, journalists and artists at risk, so they can continue to work free from fear of persecution. More than 50 cities have joined the network since 2006 and they have hosted more than 150 writers and artists.

Asieh Amini, a prominent Iranian poet, journalist and human rights activist, told me that she thinks ICORN is like an ambulance. “It takes you from a bad situation to a better one,” she said. “But after that, it is up to you.”

Amini was imprisoned when she highlighted the case of a 16-year-old girl who was sentenced to death by stoning. After her release, she fled the country and with ICORN’s help found residency as a guest writer in Trondheim, Norway.

She said: “When I arrived in Trondheim it was like a dream to me but you have to wake up. I learned a new language because without that you cannot be part of the culture. More cities must join ICORN. We have a lot of rich and safe cities. They can support writers and artists and the writers and artists can help the cities to think better.”


John Keenan

The GuardianTramp

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