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PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. PEN International is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088.

The PEN Story 1921 PEN is founded by the British poet, playwright and peace activist C. A. Dawson-Scott, as an international club providing a creative space for writers to share ideas and a forum uniting writers irrespective of their culture, language or political opinion.

1922 PEN Centres in Norway, Sweden, Romania, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Belgium (French-speaking), Catalonia and PEN American Center are founded.

PEN founder Catharine Amy Dawson-Scott with first PEN President, John Galsworthy, 1921.

1923 PEN holds its first international Congress, chaired by John Galsworthy, and is established as one of the world’s first NGOs and the first organisation advocating the inseparability of freedom of expression and literature.

Austrian PEN and Spanish PEN are founded.

1924 Polish PEN and PEN Mexico are founded. Also the Chinese PEN Centre in Shanghai

1925 Melborne PEN Centre and Sydney PEN Centre are founded.

1926 English novelist and dramatist John Galsworthy, first PEN President. © 3260157 / Hulton Archive/Stringer / Courtesy of Getty Images

PEN Canada (bilingual), Yugoslavian PEN and Lithuanian PEN are founded.

1927 South African PEN founded.

Yiddish PEN Centre founded in Vilnius, with branches in Warsaw and New York

1929 Thomas Mann, soon to become a founding member of the Germanspeaking Writers Abroad PEN Centre, receives Nobel Prize in Literature.

Writers from fifteen nations meet at the annual congress in Berlin, in the first such international gathering hosted in Germany since the end of World War One. In a meeting with Galsworthy, several young German writers including Bertolt Brecht, Alfred Döblin, and Robert Musil express concern that the German PEN Center does not represent the true face of German literature. Playwright Ernst Toller insists that PEN can not ignore politics, saying, ‘it is everywhere and influences everything.’ In response, John Galsworthy presents three resolutions that form the foundation of PEN’s future charter: 1. Literature, national though it should be in origin, knows no frontiers, and should remain common currency between nations in spite of political or international upheavals. 2. In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art, the patrimony of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion.

Thomas Mann, Nobel Prize in Literature winner, 1929 © Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection

3. Members of PEN should at all times use what influence they have in favour of good understanding and mutual respect between nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class and national hatreds, and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world.

1930 Flemish PEN and PEN Argentina are founded

1931 The rise of National Socialism in Germany and fascism in Spain presents a challenge to PEN’s previously non-political stance. The PEN London committee launches an ‘Appeal to All Governments’, relating to religious and political prisoners.

1932 John Galsworthy, PEN’s first president, receives the Nobel Prize for Literature.

German Jewish poet and playwright, Ernst Toller. © 2630782 / Topical Press Agency/Stringer / Courtesy of Getty Images.

1933 From time to time the conscience of the world is stirred and shocked by revelations of the ill-treatment, in this, that, or the other country, of people imprisoned on political or religious grounds. We submit that, in such cases, Governments are specially bound to see that humanity is not violated in the treatment of such prisoners. We further urge Governments to remember that nothing so provokes the ill-will of the world at large against a given country as a knowledge that political or religious prisoners are ill-treated; and that such ill-treatment is in these days bound, soon or late, to become matter of common knowledge. Appeal to All Governments, 1931

Tensions run high at the Dubrovnik Congress, as international delegates condemn the German Centre’s failure to protest Nazi book burnings. PEN President H.G. Wells declares, ‘We must clearly state where we stand and what we advocate – progress or return to the Middle Ages’. Henry Seidel Canby (USA) proposes the need for delegates to ‘take appropriate measures’ against centres violating the terms and spirit of the International Charter. The German delegates attempt to obstruct Canby’s resolution and seek to prevent the exiled German-Jewish writer Ernst Toller from addressing Congress. After a majority vote in favour of Toller’s right to speak, German delegates leave the Congress in protest. The German Centre is subsequently expelled. Madness holds sway over our time, barbarism holds sway over men… The voice of truth is never pleasant to those in positions of power. Those who fought for the truth yesterday are now being subjected to torture. We might never see each other again, for our future is in danger. Regardless of how we fight, we must have the same goal before us – freeing mankind from lies and injustice. (Ernst Toller, 1933)

The All-India PEN Centre is founded Poster for the German PEN Club in Exile, 1938

1934 As a host of exiled German writers flee to London, the first exile Centre, German-speaking Writers Abroad, is formed to support them.

Japanese PEN and Brazilian PEN are founded.

1937 Arthur Koestler is imprisoned and sentenced to death in Fascist Spain and PEN leads a successful campaign for his release, in the form of a cable to General Franco, bearing the names of PEN council members, as well as those of E.M. Forster and Aldous Huxley.

1936 H.G. Wells president of English PEN, sends the following message to the military authorities based in Granada: ‘H.G. Wells, PEN President, awaits with anxiety to hear from his distinguished friend Federido García Lorca and would enourmously appreciate getting a response.’

1938 At the Prague Congress, resolutions are passed condemning all forms of persecution, including anti-Semitism. Jules Romains, International President, states: Sometimes we are accused of pushing politics. How naïve and hypocritical! We want nothing better than to leave politics alone, provided that it leaves us alone. By asking us not to see the huge, untold consequences affecting our most valuable and high minded interests, and actions that are political by their very origin and repercussions, we are asked to be more ignorant and blinder than is even possible. Focus is also placed upon the Second Sino-Japanese War and it is suggested that Japan might be asked to spare China’s cultural monuments and universities.

Arthur Koestler © Estate of Fred Stein,

In London, appeal funds are set up to provide hospitality and financial assistance to the thousands of German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian writers forced into exile, as well as for Catalan writers, who are sent food parcels. PEN devotes itself to writing supporting letters for visas into Britain, the US and Canada, and tries to keep refugees out of internment camps. Various PEN members volunteer to give refugees lessons in English.

Jules Romains, © Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection

1939 At this moment, when the future, not of our nation alone but that of all nations, is being decided, we, the undersigned English writers, ask to be heard by the writers of other countries. Our country has been blamed in the past for actions most manifestly taken because we hoped by them to avert war. We failed. We failed to check the deliberate and carefully-prepared violence which has invaded and killed in one country after another, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France. Where the invading armies of Germany have gone, unarmed men and women and children have been mercilessly killed, and freedom of mind and spirit has been crushed out. It is not only life which is threatened. It is freedom of conscience, and if it is lost, as it is lost wherever Nazi power extends, life itself is not worth a breath. We ask all those who still have liberty to speak, and to think, to consider what this means.

While serving as President of the Finnish PEN Centre, Frans Eemil Sillanpää is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature

1940 Storm Jameson, the first female president of English PEN, explicitly advocates writers’ duty to take a political stance. At her initiative, PEN publishes the ‘Appeal to the Conscience of the World’ and sends it to all Allied countries and PEN Centres, urging writers ‘to make it clear to people in [their] country that we with our allies are not fighting only for ourselves but for the belief we share with every man, of any race and religion, who holds that men should respect each other and minds should be free’. The appeal is covered by international media and broadcast on the BBC’s Overseas Service.

We ask you to make it clear to people in your country that we with our allies are not fighting only for ourselves, but for the belief we share with every man, of any race and religion, who holds that men should respect each other and minds should be free. We are fighting for our own lives. We are fighting in the hope to end this war before more children, innocent if anyone is, have been slaughtered in their homes. But in as much as we are fighting for the consciences of our children we are fighting for the people of every nation, without exception. We ask you to know this. We ask you, with the confidence that you will judge us fairly, to support us as best you can in a struggle which is not ended yet. We do not expect defeat. We expect danger and are able to face it. We expect your belief in us. And we pledge ourselves on our part to remember that a lasting peace can be based only on justice. We do not desire and we will set our faces against revenge. We appeal to each one of you individually to pass our words on, by every means, to the nations of the world. Appeal to the Conscience of the World, 1940

Storm Jameson, first female President of English PEN. © 2633408 / E. O. Hoppe/Stringer / Courtesy of Getty Images

Just before the fall of Paris, international president Jules Romains transfers dangerous documents including membership cards and letters from Paris to Lisbon, to protect writers from Nazi retribution.

1941 Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Laureate for Literature, dies while serving as president of All-India PEN. Members of PEN welcome Russian participation in the war and send greetings to Russian writers.


PEN’s International Executive sends an open letter to Soviet writers and intellectuals, inviting them to join PEN and urging the foundation of links between the USSR and the West via the free circulation of writing and information.

PEN Lebanon Centre is founded

1945 Egyptian PEN and Cuban PEN are founded.

1947 UNESCO and the UN are represented at PEN’s international Congress in Zurich.

1948 New German PEN Club and Bangladesh PEN Centre are founded.

1949 PEN acquires consultative status at the United Nations as ‘representative of the writers of the world’. PEN acquires consultative status at the UN, 1949.

1950 PEN Turkey and Basque PEN are founded.

In July the Bulletin of Selected Books is first published from the International Office, in association with UNESCO.

A protest is made to Iran, concerning the hardship suffered by its political prisoners.

Pen International Bulletin of Selected Books issued in association with UNESCO


Yugoslavian writers Erih Kos and Miodrag Bulatovic in conversation with US playwright Arthur Miller at PEN International meeting in Bled, Slovenia, 1955. © 52038145 / Keystone/Stringer/ Courtesy of Getty Images

Russian writer Ivan Bunin, Nobel Laureate for Literature, is elected the first ever honorary member of PEN International, representing the community of writers in exile.

1952 Indonesian PEN Centre is founded.

François Mauriac, wartime PEN International president, receives the Nobel Prize for Literature.

1955 Hong Kong (Chinese Speaking) PEN Centre and Korean PEN Centre are founded.

1957 Philippine PEN Centre is founded.

1958 Taipei Chinese Centre is founded

1960 1961 PEN Langue d’Oc centre is founded

1962 During the Cuban missile crisis, PEN American Center works to ensure that Cubans can participate at congress without the intervention of the American government.


The International Writers in Prison Committee is formed to investigate the cases of writers imprisoned solely for their writings and opinions, and to coordinate the responses and actions of individual Centres. The case of Albanian writer Musine Kokalari, persecuted by the communist regime in Albania and sentenced to twenty years in prison by the military court of Tirana, is one of the first of thirty cases considered by the committee.

The Philippine Centre organises an Asian Writers’ Conference in Manila, at which it is agreed to produce a regular anthology of Asian writing.

PEN Senegal and PEN Afrikaans are founded

1966 PEN International President Arthur Miller successfully presses the Johnson administration to grant Pablo Neruda a visa so that he can attend the New York Congress, despite the fact that he is a communist.

Playwright Arthur Miller walking with poet Pablo Neruda, during 1966 PEN Congress. Inge Morath © The Inge Morath Foundation/ Magnum Photos USA. New York, NY. 1966.

1967 Among the first cases of the International Writers in Prison Committee is that of Wole Soyinka, marked for execution by the Nigerian head of state. Under the presidency of Arthur Miller, PEN International successfully appeals for his release.

Wole Soyinka, lecturer in drama at the Ibadan University, at his residence in Ibadan, Western Nigeria, the week he was released after two years’ detention for alleged involvement in the Nigeria crisis, 1969. © 2628992 / Keystone/ Courtesy of Getty Images

1972 Heinrich Böll, PEN International President, receives the Nobel Prize for Literature and hands over part of his prize money to a fund instigated by Dutch PEN members, to help persecuted writers and their families. German writer and Nobel prize winner for Literature Heinrich Böll, 1972. © 3287280 / Keystone/Stringer / Courtesy of Getty Images

1980 PEN protests against the imprisonment of Czech writer Václav Havel, as well as others, for his role in the initiative Charter 77, a text criticising the Communist government for failing to adhere to the human rights requirements of various documents it had signed, among them the United Nations covenants on political, civil, economic, and cultural rights. PEN members including Arthur Miller, E. L. Doctorow and Jerzy Kosiński stage a demonstration and circulate a petition on Havel’s behalf.

1978 The Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee is founded, to foster the possibility of readers and writers exploring writing from cultures other than their own

Nepalese PEN Centre is founded

1981 On the 15th November, the Writers in Prison Committee launches the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, an event to be observed annually, to raise awareness of writers imprisoned and commemorate those killed for the practice of their professions.

PEN International Day of the Imprisoned Writer

1982 PEN International’s Bulletin of Selected Books becomes PEN International magazine.

First issue of PEN International magazine

1984 Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter with Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, 1985.

1985 Former English PEN Vice President Harold Pinter and former International President Arthur Miller visit Istanbul on a PEN International delegation to meet with imprisoned writers, raise global awareness of the repressive regime in Turkey and expose the American government’s failure to scrutinise policies whilst the Turkish Republic remained an important ally in the Cold War.

The Writers for Peace Committee is created, in response to the Cold War limiting opportunities for writers to collaborate across the East-West divide. The committee is conceived as a haven for writers, especially those from regions in conflict, to share ideas and make their voices heard.

1986 Wole Soyinka receives the Nobel Prize in Literature.

1988 Kurdish PEN is founded.

1989 Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issues a fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie in response to the publication of The Satanic Verses: PEN plays a key role in the global campaign calling for the withdrawal of the fatwa.

Russian PEN Centre founded

Václav Havel, Honorary President of Czech PEN, elected President of Czechoslovakia.

Protesters chant slogans to condemn Britain’s knighting of the Indian-born author Salman Rushdie June 22, 2007 in Islamabad, Pakistan. © 74858112 / Paula Bronstein/Staff / Courtesy of Getty Images

At the international Congress in Canada, women writers gain fifty per cent representation for the first time and have greater opportunity to discuss issues faced by women writers internationally.

1991 Nadine Gordimer, Vice President of PEN International, receives Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Women Writers Committee is established, to promote challenges faced by women writers around the world, such as unequal education, unequal access to resources and prohibition from writing.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Honorary Member of Japanese PEN and English PEN, receives the Nobel Peace Prize

A 2007 Conference of the PEN International Women Writers Committee, established in 1991.

1993 Toni Morrison, PEN International Vice President, receives the Nobel Prize in Literature. Aung San Suu Kyi © 107666863 / Drn/Stringer / Courtesy of Getty Images


Toni Morrison © 81470465 / Archive Photos/Stringer / Courtesy of Getty Images

After years of conflict between PEN Centres in the former Yugoslavia, during which Miloš Mikeln (then president of Slovenian PEN) accused Serbian writers of ‘spreading hatred’ and ‘assisting chauvinistic propaganda’, the new International President, Ronald Harwood, visits Belgrade to encounter the views of Serbian PEN first hand. He subsequently agrees to take Serbian PEN’s proposal for cooperation and renewed literary connections between PEN Centres in the former Yugoslavia to Zagreb, and urges Serbian PEN members to attend the upcoming congress in Prague, despite internal and external opposition. In November, Serbian delegates Vida Ognjenović, Predrag Palavestra and Dušan Veličković attend Congress, resulting in the readmission of Serbian PEN to the Writers for Peace Committee and the reopening of dialogue.

1995-6 PEN publishes an open letter addressed to international heads of state on behalf of Chinese journalist and campaigner for democratic reform, Wei Jing-sheng, charged by the Chinese Communist Party with attempting to overthrow the government and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. Signatories of the letter, requesting that every available influence be brought to bear to secure his release, include Jacques Derrida, Günter Grass and Susan Sontag.

1996 Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng © 1444687 / Michael Smith / Staff / Courtesy of Getty Images

1998 At PEN’s 65th International Congress, Helsinki, Spanish is accepted as the third official language of PEN International. A month later the PEN Iberian American Foundation is established to promote PEN’s work in the region.

2001 The Independent Chinese PEN Centre is founded.

Diversity, a multilingual electronic literary collection.

UNESCO’s Declaration of Linguistic Rights is signed in Barcelona, supported by PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Commitee.

1999 Günter Grass, of German PEN, receives Nobel Prize in Literature.

2000 The first regional meeting of the Iberian American PEN Foundation was held in Miami, Florida

PEN International Women Writers Committee produces the first volume of Nuestra Voz, Our Voice, Notre Voix, an anthology composed of poetry, fiction and essays, contributed by 113 women writers from 33 countries, writing in Spanish, English, and French.

2003 The Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee founds Diversity, a multilingual electronic literary collection with works of contemporary authors translated from languages of lesser currency into other world languages and the official languages of PEN International. First volume of the anthology Nuestra Voz, Our Voice, Notre Voix.

Representatives from all the eighteen PEN Centres in Ibero-America gather in Miami, Florida brought together by PEN’s Ibero-American Foundation and the Cuban Writers in Exile PEN Centre.

2003 J. M. Coetzee, Vice President of PEN International and South African PEN member, receives Nobel Prize in Literature.

2004 The Writers in Prison Committee publishes Anti-Terrorism, Writers and Freedom of Expression, a report which assesses the repression of writers and the climate of fear that has emerged in the name of anti-terrorism.

Anti-Terrorism, Writers and Freedom of Expression.

The PEN International Women Writers Committee and the Central Asian Centre hold a regional conference on the theme of ‘Women and Censorship’, focusing on the experiences of women writers in Central Asia. The conference provides an opportunity for women writers to form a community, in a region where they have all but vanished from the public scene.

2005 PEN International collaborates with the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee and the Kurdish and Turkish PEN Centres to bring together, for the first time in modern history, Kurdish and Turkish languages, literatures and writers to engage in a discussion of cultural diversity and its relation to dialogue, peace, language and translation, and the role of writers in its support.

Logos of Kurdish PEN and Turkish PEN

Members of the Women Writers Committee at the regional conference on the theme of ‘Women and Censorship’, 2005

Harold Pinter, former Vice President of English PEN, receives the Nobel Prize in Literature.

2006 PEN members around the world mark the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya with vigils, tributes and events, and PEN International campaigns on her behalf against impunity. Politkovskaya had received death threats since 1999, following her pioneering reports on alleged human rights abuses by the Russian armed forces in Chechnya.

Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. © Xenia Bondareva

Orhan Pamuk, PEN member, receives the Nobel Prize in Literature.

2007 During the Congress in Dakar, Senegal, PEN International presents Freedoms, a night of African literature, celebrating the diversity of writings from across the continent, with Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina as host.

PEN tributes to Anna Politkovskaya

PEN International launches a worldwide campaign calling for the repeal of laws that treat defamation as a criminal rather than a civil offence. Focus is placed upon the history and application of insult laws in Turkey; the Egyptian legal system and libel charges; the European Union and 11 countries with laws penalising insult to the state, its institutions and royal families, and the use of criminal defamation legislation in Africa to silence print journalists.

Difamation and ‘Insult’ Report from International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee. 2008


Ghana PEN school project.

2008 PEN International launches its first roaming event series called Free the Word!, on the theme of ‘The Writer Next Door’. The events celebrate contemporary literature from around the world and subsequently take place in a variety of locations globally, including Austria, Turkey, Morocco, South Africa, England, Czech Republic, Serbia, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Scotland, Lebanon and Haiti.

PEN International collaborates with regional Centres in Africa to establish international programmes with the priorities of education, library and community access, literature and public engagement. The first programmes include literary readings in Algeria, family oriented storytelling events in Zambia and creative writing workshops on the theme of childhood memory for young people in Uganda. PEN International programmes are later expanded across Africa as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central Asia, Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

Uyghur PEN Centre is founded

PEN International Free the Word! festival at The Globe, London, 2009

Postcard for the ‘Freedom to Write in the Americas’ campaign.

2009 The Writers for Peace Committee write a number of open letters calling for dialogue in the Middle East, Iran and Afghanistan, as well as freedom of the press in Russia and the protection of minority cultures in China.

In the year of the Beijing Olympics, PEN International launches a worldwide campaign of media reporting, petitions, government lobbying, lectures and readings, calling for freedom of expression and improved civil and political rights for all Chinese writers and journalists. Sydney PEN, Independent Chinese PEN and Swiss German PEN initiate the PEN Poem Relay to run parallel to the Olympic torch relay: the poem ‘June’, written by imprisoned Chinese poet and journalist, Shi Tao, which alludes to the Tiananmen Square protests, travels the world via the internet and is translated into 100 different languages.

In the month preceding the Iranian presidential elections, the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International campaigns on behalf of six writers, journalists and cultural activists from Iran’s ethnic regions, sentenced for their critical reporting and peaceful activism on minority rights. Appeals are sent to the Iranian government. PEN International Magazine, Context: Asia Pacific.

Through the Latin America and Caribbean regional programme, the Bolivian PEN Centre devises a series of workshops to be held in primary schools, in response to an identified lack of teaching materials addressing the country’s indigenous languages and culture. A book, Pedacitos, is published, comprising a selection of texts and thoughts written by local children on issues of human rights, gender equality and environment.

The Writers in Prison Committee launches a worldwide campaign highlighting the persecution of writers and journalists particularly in Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela. Writers including Lydia Cacho, Noam Chomsky and Derek Walcott put their name to a ‘Declaration in Defence of the Freedom to Write in the Americas’. A postcard action is released, calling for an end to the climate of impunity surrounding journalist murders and disappearances in Mexico.

Uyghur writer Nurmuhemmet Yasin, whose story ‘Wild Pigeons’ resulted in his arrest and detention by Chinese authorities, is included as the lead guest writer in the PEN International magazine themed ‘Context: Asia Pacific’, to honour him and attest to the fact that he has not been forgotten.

Bolivian schoolchildren take part in workshops run by Bolivian PEN.

2010 Mario Vargas Llosa, former PEN International President, receives the Nobel Prize for Literature. Nobel Prize in Literature winner Mario Vargas Llosa, 2010 © 107513740 / Getty Images / Stringer / Courtesy of Getty Images


Liu Xiaobo wins the Nobel Peace Prize, 2010.

Liu Xiaobo, former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China, but is unable to receive the prize in person due to serving an 11 year jail sentence in north-east China for state subversion. PEN International attends the Nobel Prize Ceremony representing Liu Xiaobo, whose empty chair has symbolic significance to PEN, which has been using the image of the empty chair to represent imprisoned and persecuted writers since 1980.

The Asia Pacific regional programme, launched in 2009, is expanded, with a focus on the implementation of education projects, in collaboration with Philippines PEN, Nepal PEN, and Tibetan Writers Abroad PEN.

To commemorate its 50th Anniversary, the Writers in Prison Committee runs a year long campaign, ‘Because Writers Speak their Minds’. A book of 50 emblematic cases worked on over the last half-century is published.

The Writers in Prison Committee carries out research on attacks on journalists and writers in Tunisia and lobbies at the European Union, meeting with representatives of the European Commission and Parliament to highlight various concerns, a new law criminalizing EU lobbying by Tunisian activists and the lack of an independent judiciary in Tunisia.

Teaching Philippine Literature in Schools Workshop

PEN International hosts a United Nations panel in Geneva on ‘Faith and Free Speech: Defamation of Religions and Freedom of Expression’, to highlight the message that individuals have an absolute right to practice their religion freely and without discrimination or threat of violence, and that prohibitions on religious defamation are not an effective means to reduce bigotry or religious hatred. John Ralston Saul is joined on the panel by Agnes Callamard, Director of Article 19, Swissborn Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, and Budhy Rahman from the Asia Foundation in Indonesia. Internationally acclaimed writers, including Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka, make statements by videotape.

2011 The Girona Manifesto for Linguistic Rights is ratified at the PEN International Congress, promoting the value of linguistic diversity, the defence of minority languages and the need for the UN to recognise the right to use and protect one’s own language as a fundamental human right.

Presentation of the Girona Manifesto at the Generalitat Palace, Barcelona © Catalan

PEN International renews calls for the release of over thirty writers imprisoned in China, including Liu Xiaobo.

PEN International launches its ‘Day of the Dead’ campaign, commemorating Mexican writers and journalists who have been murdered, or who have been disappeared, as a result of their work. PEN calls on the Mexican authorities to bring to justice those responsible for these crimes, and PEN members build personalised altars to the dead, to be displayed alongside photographs of murdered and missing journalists at public vigils.

Día De los Muertos Noviembre de 2011

2012 The PEN Declaration on Digital Freedom is ratified at the 78th Annual Congress as a response to concerns that poets, playwrights, essayists, novelists, writers, bloggers and journalists are suffering violations to their right of freedom of expression for using digital media. Recordando a los fallecidos periodistas mexicanos

PEN International’s ‘Day of the Dead’ campaign.


Mexico City, PEN Protesta! Eric Lax, Hori Takeaki and John Ralston Saul with President of the Senate, Senator José González Morfín, Senator Renán Cleominio Zoreda Novelo, Secretario de la Mesa Correctiva del Senado de la Republica and others, 2012

PEN International, PEN Mexico, San Miguel de Allende PEN, and PEN Guadalajara launch a joint initiative, PEN Protesta!, against the murder of writers and journalists in Mexico and calling on the government to end the climate of impunity. The Executives of PEN International, PEN American, Japanese and English PEN Centres lead a large delegation to Mexico City, where more than 50 writers and journalists read statements ranging from accounts of threats to declarations of outrage. PEN International publishes an open letter of solidarity with the writers and journalists of Mexico, signed by 170 of the world’s leading authors, including Chinua Achebe, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison, Orhan Pamuk, Philip Pullman and Derek Walcott. Shortly after the event, the Mexican Senate approves a constitutional amendment to federalize crimes against journalists.

Open letter addressed to the writers and journalists of Mexico, published in in the Mexican paper, El Universal and the Canadian paper, Le Devoir

In time for the Mexican Day of the Dead, PEN International launches the campaign ‘Write Against Impunity’, a literary protest against escalating violence against journalists, writers and bloggers in Latin America and the Caribbean. The campaign calls on writers from the region to send in texts in solidarity with threatened journalists and writers, and to commemorate murdered colleagues. The following year 43 of these texts appear in book format as the bilingual anthology Write Against Impunity/Escribe contra la impunidad as part of a series published with the support of PEN International’s Publishers Circle.

‘Write Against Impunity’ Anthology.


The PEN Report: Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China.

On World Press Freedom Day, PEN International and PEN American Center launch The PEN Report: Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China. The culmination of five years of collaborative research among PEN members inside and outside of China, the report is a frank assessment of the climate of freedom of expression through personal essays by 10 of China’s leading dissident writers. The report is launched by International President John Ralston Saul and Salman Rushdie at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York; at the same time an Open Letter to Chinese authorities, signed by around 150 global literary and cultural figures in support of creative freedom in China, is published in the Guardian and Times Literary Supplement. The report receives extensive press coverage around the world.

The first annual PEN International/ New Voices Award presented at the 79th Congress in Reykjavik, Iceland. The prize, with nominations made by Centres, honours unpublished writers aged 18-30. PEN Myanmar and PEN Delhi are founded.

New Voices Award logo.

2014 PEN International receives major grant from UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity to work with its Publishers Circle and PEN Centres in Kenya, Serbia, Haiti and Nigeria to strengthen the creative publishing industries in these countries.


PEN International, PEN Canada and the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law launch Honduras: Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity. The report reveals the rising scale of murderous violence against journalists in the country.

Report Journalism in the shadow of impunity.

PEN International launches ‘Out in the Cold’ campaign in the build-up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics protesting the draconian restrictions placed on free expression in Russia. Open letter criticising anti-gay and blasphemy laws is signed by more than 200 leading writers from around the world and receives widespread international press coverage.

Poster for PEN’s international campaign ‘Out in the cold’.

Celebrating Over 90 Years of Writing Freedom International PEN is trading as PEN International. International PEN is a company registered in England and Wales with registration number 05683997. International PEN is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088. International PEN’s registered office is Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6ER, UK.

PEN International would like to give a special thanks to Getty images for their support, without which the production of this timeline would not have been possible.

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The PEN Story  

PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampere...

The PEN Story  

PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampere...