Freedom To Write


What is the Freedom to Write Advocacy Network?

The Freedom to Write Advocacy Network expands on cases of global concern, initiated by PEN International. In the last three years, we've launched more than 100 Advocacy Network campaigns, advocating for imperiled writers and against governments who do not honor the international commitment to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

Where is the Freedom to Write Advocacy Network located?

As the advocacy that PEN Center USA engages in is of a global nature, the best and only place for the FTW Advocacy Network to exist is online.

How frequently does the Freedom to Write Advocacy Network go into action?

Every two weeks, PEN Center USA starts a new campaign, responding to current events. Often, ongoing events need more immediate attention, and in these situations, PEN Center USA's membership is promptly notified, and the Advocacy Network mobilized.

Who does the Freedom to Write Advocacy Network aim to help?

The FTW Advocacy Network focuses primarily on writers who are currently threatened or censored, or have been imprisoned or killed. In some cases, current events are of a broader nature than those concerning a specific writer or writers. If the circumstance requires it, the Advocacy Network can shift to providing awareness and information on the broader topic, while still appealing to governments specifically on behalf of imperiled writers.

What is the end result of a Freedom to Write Advocacy Network campaign?

When a campaign comes to an end, the accompanying petition is printed, signed, and sent to representatives of authorities in the countries concerned, as well as to international ambassadors in the United States. By pointing a spotlight on these international cases, unwanted attention is cast on the offending authorities, often resulting in positive action benefiting the writer(s) in question.


PEN Center USA is unwavering in the belief that information saves lives, which is the tenet that guides our actions in advocating for imperiled writers through the Freedom to Write Advocacy Network.


“I’ve often envied those writers in the Western world who can peacefully practice their craft and earn a living thereby… What [the authorities here] cannot stand is that a writer should give voice to the voiceless or organize them for action. In short, they do not want literature on the streets!” —KEN SARO WIWA, written to PEN Center USA from his prison cell in Nigeria shortly before his execution.

Since 1921, PEN International has championed freedom of expression and defended writers of conscience. PEN International members were influential in crafting Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression… and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” PEN International holds Category A status at UNESCO and consultative status with the United Nations, where the organization lobbies on behalf of writers who are harassed, imprisoned, and murdered for the peaceful expression of their views.

As a member of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee, PEN Center USA works to secure the release and to support the families of writers of conscience around the world. Members visit their colleagues in jail in other parts of the world and hand-deliver aid in the form of letters and financial assistance whenever possible. With public events and over the Internet, members raise awareness about freedom of expression abroad while working to protect the First Amendment at home.

Released writers include Julia Cecilia Delgado of Cuba, Tamrat Zuma of Ethiopia, and Esber Yagmurdereli of Turkey.

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Awards and the Emergency Writers' Fund

Each year PEN Center USA presents the Freedom to Write and First Amendment Awards to individuals and organizations that have produced notable work in the face of extreme adversity or demonstrated exceptional courage in the defense of free expression. The awards are presented each fall at PEN Center USA’s Annual Literary Awards Festival. Funds are collected from our members with the purpose of helping other writers or their families for lawyer’s fees, bail, or medical needs. Recent honorees include Cuban dissident Raul Rivero, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association, the American Library Association, Sahal Abdulle, and U Win Tin.

Freedom to Write Calendar

February 21 International Mother Language Day
March 9 International Women's Day
March 21 World Poetry Day
April 24-25 Kurdish PEN/PEN Turkey Peace Conference
April 25-May 1 PEN World Voices Festival
May 3 World Press Freedom Day
May 31-June 2, 2017 In Other Words: the 2017 Biennial PEN International Writers in Prison Conference in Norway
June 17 Anniversary of the Arrest of Raif Badawi
June 20 World Refugee Day
August 19 International Youth Day
September 15 Anniversary of the Arrest of Azimjon Askarov
September 18 - 21, 2017 The 83rd PEN International Congress in Lviv, Ukraine
September 21 International Day of Peace
September 26 - October 2 The 82nd PEN International Congress in Ourense
September 30 International Translation Day
November 2 International Day to End Impunity
November 15 Day of the Imprisoned Writer
December 8 Anniversary of the Arrest of Liu Xiaobo
December 10 Human Rights Day

RAN Archives

PEN Center USA’s Freedom to Write Committee seeks to spotlight ongoing dangers and disturbing new trends in the suppression of expression. We do this by investigating and reporting on regional and country-specific problems. Past efforts include the Nigeria Initiative, aimed at publicizing the link between oil politics and the silencing of dissent in Nigeria, and a coordinated campaign to end violent attacks against journalists in Latin America. Click here to visit the RAN Archives.

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