This chapter outlines the role PEN International plays as a global writers’ organisation in promoting freedom of expression and international exchange between writers, readers and civil society actors. It explores the important role played by cultural actors in civil society internationally, PEN International’s campaigning for writers at risk, and the effects of the enabling environment on PEN Centres as civil society organisations (CSOs).
PEN International and civil society
Writers and artists play a unique role in civil society as both amplifiers of diverse viewpoints and influencers, a role that is often discounted in traditional views of civil society which focus on activism.
PEN International is a worldwide association of writers focussing on the promotion of freedom of expression and literature. Founded in 1921, PEN International now has a global membership of more than 20,000 writers and activists in 144 PEN Centres in 102 countries. PEN Centres are membership-led organisations operated by writers, publishers and freedom of expression advocates in their country, region or linguistic territory. All PEN Centres are members of PEN International and uphold the PEN Charter, which calls for the defence of freedom of expression and the “unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations.” PEN is active in all world regions and has Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and formal consultative relations with UNESCO.
PEN’s principal areas of focus include:
- Freedom of expression. PEN International campaigns on behalf of writers who have been harassed, attacked, imprisoned or killed because of their writing. All of PEN’s work strives toward the goal of “unhampered transmission of thought” as expressed within the PEN Charter, whether that be ensuring writers have the freedom to write and publish, enabling readers to access writing and writers from across the globe, defending linguistic rights and promoting translation, or creating spaces for dialogue and highlighting writing and multiple voices from all parts of the world.
- Civil society programmes. PEN Centres worldwide deliver civil society programmes focusing on education, citizenship and engagement, human rights and culture. Engagement and participation are central to the exercise and promotion of freedom of expression and PEN Centres globally play an active role as CSOs and civil society enablers in their countries.
- Public policy and awareness raising. PEN International connects the individual to the international. As a global network involving thousands of writers and activists, PEN International is able to connect public policy concerns of civil society locally and nationally with international and inter-governmental organisations.
Freedom of expression underlies all of PEN International’s activity, from campaigning on behalf of writers in prison to delivering education programmes. PEN International addresses the full spectrum of freedom of expression, from promotion of the right to challenging infringements of freedom of expression. Its activities includes cases where an individual’s right to freedom of expression has been curtailed through harassment or imprisonment, as well as strengthening individual’s and communities’ awareness of freedom of expression and ability to realise their right to freedom of expression.
PEN International is also a key connecting point between writers and civil society. Like many artists, writers tend to work in solitude; however, communication and reaching out are inherent to writing and writers. Writers have an audience, a readership, and an influence in their society. Writers and artists play a unique role in civil society as both amplifiers of diverse viewpoints and influencers, a role that is often discounted in traditional views of civil society, which focus on activism. PEN creates a connection between activism and the role writers play as amplifiers and influencers.
Freedom of expression is fundamental for effective civil society action in promoting debate, public engagement and consideration by governments of diverse public policy alternatives. Freedom of expression is also a necessary element of literature and the exchange between readers and writers. It is inherent in a writer’s craft. Freedom of expression is essential for the communication between writers and readers. For writers it is not an add-on, but a necessity. Therefore, PEN believes that it is essential for writers to defend freedom of expression, to campaign for fellow writers whose freedom of expression is at risk, and actively to reach out and connect with civil society, both nationally and internationally, thus amplifying the work of civil society actors more broadly.
As writers, as well as members of an international organisation, PEN members are affected by freedom of expression and civil society issues both as individuals and as members of CSOs. This chapter therefore focuses on two principal areas of concern – writers at risk and the enabling environment for PEN Centres as CSOs.
Writers at risk
In 2012, PEN International monitored more than 800 cases of attacks on writers in all world regions. These include physical attacks and killings, imprisonment and harassment of writers. Campaigning and the collection and analysis of information on attacks against writers and journalists, are core to the work of PEN International.
- In 2012, PEN monitored over 270 cases in 19 countries in Europe. The countries covered included Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, Latvia, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
- The PEN team monitored 120 cases of writers at risk in the Asia Pacific region in 14 countries including Bangladesh, China/Tibet, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar/Burma, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
- In 2012, PEN monitored more than 190 cases of writers at risk in the Middle East and North Africa region. The countries covered were Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen.
- In Africa some 120 cases of writers at risk in 37 countries were monitored, including cases in Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia/Somaliland, South Africa, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
- In the Americas PEN recorded over 150 cases of writers at risk in 19 countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States of America and Venezuela.