“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 USA from his prison cell in Nigeria shortly before his execution.

Since 1921, International PEN has championed freedom of expression and defended writers of conscience. PEN 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 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 International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, PEN 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.

PEN USA’s Freedom to Write Committee, made up of more than 200 volunteer writers, seeks to create a broader American consensus in favor of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

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