Throughout history right up until the present day, there are tales of translators and interpreters who have suffered for their art.
William Tyndale is one of the most well-known examples from history. A scholar fluent in 8 languages, Tyndale translated the Bible into English at a time it was strictly forbidden to do so, under the 1408 Constitutions of Oxford. Working in secret, he published his New Testament in 1526. Tyndale spent much of the 10 years after publication in hiding from Henry VIII’s spies until, in 1534, he was befriended by Henry Phillips. Phillips was secretly an agent of either of Henry VIII or the English Church, so subsequently betrayed Tyndale and he was imprisoned. After 500 days of imprisonment, on 6th October 1536, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake for his translation crimes.
Much more recently, in 1991, the Japanese translator of Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel ‘The Satanic Verses’ was found stabbed to death outside his office at Tsukuba University. The New York Times reported that this was the second attack related to the translation of the novel, as the Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was also stabbed in his apartment in Milan. Fortunately, Mr Capriolo survived his injuries.
Even more recently, a study conducted in 2014 found that more than 1,000 interpreters working for the US military were killed in Afghanistan that year, amounting to one death every 36 hours. Afghan interpreters working for the US and UK military are at huge risk, as they are viewed as ‘national traitors’ by the Taliban and are hunted down and killed.
In February this year, it was reported that four interpreters who worked for the British Army are currently in hiding after receiving death threats from the Taliban. One said “We have evidence of many interpreters who were killed […] they will kill me one day”. The interpreters , despite being awarded certificated and medals for their work for the British Army, had been denied Asylum in the UK. One of the interpreter asked ‘why has the British Government abandoned us?” The British Home Office said: “We remain committed to allowing Afghan interpreters relocating to the UK to do so with their families […] We are looking again at what more can be done to make this process easier.”
On a more positive note, just last week it was reported that the first Afghan interpreter who served alongside British Soldiers has arrived to begin a new life with his family in the UK, after years of death threats from the Taliban forced the entire family into hiding. Niz worked as a senior interpreter for the British military – and later for the Foreign Office – at the height of the war in Afghanistan. He and his family have been granted asylum in the country under new rules brought in by former defence secretary Gavin Williamson.