Numerous writers were executed during the French Revolution. This is just one of many historical examples of writers being targeted for capital punishment. Printed words are powerful and most governments seek to control them.
Even a free speech country like America has an interesting history with its writers. Psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich’s books were burned by the American government in 1956 because of his controversial ideas. During the McCarthy era many authors, playwrights, and screenwriters were prosecuted or blacklisted because of their writings or alleged association with the Communist Party. Henry Miller saw his books banned for years in the land of the free, and could only publish in Europe.
Salman Rushdie went underground and had bodyguards for years because of the Iranian government’s fatwa death threat on his life following publication of The Satanic Verses. I have met lesser-known writers from other countries who have been persecuted and even tortured for their writings. The list of authors and journalists who have been persecuted in modern times and presently is extremely lengthy, and in fact, there is even an organization (ICORN) that exists to offer them refuge.
Thinking about this is enough to give you a nasty block. In fact, fear of much less drastic consequences is often enough to put the chill on a writer’s output. It could be that you’re worried about how your grandmother will react about your op-ed piece or erotic novel. You can’t always know for sure how the public, the government, our community, or your family will react to your work (if they react at all) but your fantasies about these reactions may control your ability to keep writing.
If your fantasies about people’s reactions are just that – fantasies, or the stakes aren’t too, too high, maybe you should push past the fear, find your voice and say what you want to say. If your words will predictably trigger a reaction by the authorities and initiate a trip to the guillotine, you could consider postponing publication until a kinder, gentler regime assumes power.