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Scottish PEN response to imprisonment of writer Craig Murray

We join with writers and organisations around the world to express concern about the impending imprisonment of Scottish writer and blogger Craig Murray on a sentence of eight months.

August 4, 2021

On Friday 30th July 2021, a post was shared from the Scottish PEN Twitter account where we joined with writers and organisations around the world to express concern about the impending imprisonment of Scottish writer and blogger Craig Murray on a sentence of eight months. As of Sunday, 1st August, Murray is now imprisoned.

Not only is this event – the first imprisonment of a writer in Scotland in living memory – of direct relevance to the work of Scottish PEN, but the terms of the sentence also constitutes a potentially significant development in Scots Law.  As an organisation with core concern in human rights and the defence of writers, the Board of Scottish PEN feels it appropriate to respond.  That Craig Murray has been imprisoned on a charge of ‘jigsaw identification’ may represent a precedent with implications for the freedoms of a diverse media and journalism in this country, and possibly beyond.

In a case this complex, with so many important nuances and implications, it is also necessary to detail our concerns:

Identification of persons afforded anonymity by the courts is a serious matter. Scottish PEN wholeheartedly supports our courts protection of identity and privacy of witnesses and parties where necessary, particularly in cases concerning claims of sexual offences. That, however, does not negate our concern at the decision to imprison Mr Murray.

Writers and ordinary citizens active on social media could now be subject to the precedent set by this decision. That a writer and blogger becomes the first person in Scotland imprisoned for media contempt in living memory should give us serious pause, particularly as the court found no evidence any protected person was identified by his action. 

The sentence also goes against the Scottish Government’s oft-repeated policy statements regarding ineffective short prison terms. Such a punitive sentence seems disproportionate and may lead to a chilling effect on the work of writers and journalists commenting on controversial cases, especially those with political implications.

For those reasons Scottish PEN joins human rights organisations, writers, and journalists around the world in expressing serious concern at the sentence passed on Mr Murray, and regret at the UK Supreme Court’s refusal to hear his appeal.

The Board of Scottish PEN