Writers In Prisons

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN was set up in 1960 as a result of mounting concern about attempts to silence critical voices around the world and an office of volunteers was set up at the PEN head office in London to gather information and to alert the PEN membership to take action. The WiPC team alerts the PEN membership of urgent cases keeps it abreast of developments on individual cases of attacks as well as global trends affecting free expression and gives advice on actions and campaigns. These include protest letters, lobbying governments, and public awareness raising. Through writing to families, and, where possible, directly to prisoners, PEN members provide encouragement and hope.

Freedom of Expression

International PEN brings together writers, journalists, poets –  all those using the written word to promote ideas –  in the common belief that it is through this sharing that bridges of understanding can be built between peoples. These bridges cross political, geographical, ethnic, cultural, religious and other divides.

It is for this reason that the protection of the right to freedom of expression –  the freedom to express ideas without fear of attack, arrest or other persecution –  has been at the heart of International PEN’s work since it was formed in 1921.

PEN’s work and advocacy was fully developed by the time the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was declared and adopted by the United Nations in 1948. It has been argued that PEN helped to define the concept of freedom of expression that is now enshrined under Article 19 of the Declaration, a right that is as important today as it was when it was defined in the aftermath of World War Two.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) was set up by members of PEN International in 1960 as a result of mounting concern about attempts to silence critical voices around the world through the detention of writers.
Emer Liston is Irish PEN’s representative on the WiPC and co-ordinates the Day of the Imprisoned Writer on November 13th each year.


PEN’s Action on Blasphemy

Below here are a collection of articles related to the 2006-2009 Defamation Bill which was modified by Dermot Ahern TD to include a criminalisation for Blasphemy. This was presented by the Fianna Fáil and Green parties as a constitutional imperative. Ireland’s Blasphemy criminalisation was enacted on January the first 2010.

Since time of this enactment neither current nor previous government has approached the issue of a referendum to remove the offense of blasphemy from the Irish constitution…..

Urgent Need for Irish Constitutional Referendum on Blasphemy

The Executive Committee of Irish PEN, the Irish Centre for PEN International, is campaigning for a constitutional referendum to be held on blasphemy in the Republic of Ireland by the end of 2011… (click here to read the entire PEN statement)

For more information please click on the following links:

1. Faith and Free Speech: Defamation of Religions and Freedom of Expression
September 16, 2010 | U. N. Building | GenevaUnited Nations side panel discussion with Dr. Agnes Callamard, Professor Tariq Ramadan, Budhy M. Rahman; moderated by John Ralston Saul

2. International Pen: Writers Urge U.N. to Abandon Efforts to Prohibit Defamation of Religions, Concentrate Instead on Respect-Building Initiatives

3. Amending the Law on Blasphemous Libel Speech by Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D., Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform at the Dail Committee on Justice, Equality Defence and Women’s Rights Wednesday, 20th May, 2009

4. Ireland voted against the UN resolution in 2009; see Annex IX here: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/gashc3966.doc.htm

5. OSCE argues against blasphemy law: Europe’s top security and human rights watchdog has urged Ireland not to preserve blasphemous libel as a crime. http://www.rte.ie/news/2009/0519/defamation.html

6. WiPC 2008 Resolution: Defamation of religions The Assembly of Delegates of International PEN, meeting at its 74th Congress in Bogota, Colombia, 17-22 September 2008

7. Art 19 , OSCE. publ 2006: “We welcome the abolition of the common law offences of blasphemous, obscene and seditious libel in section 34 of the Defamation Bill…


The Translation & Linguistic Rights Committee of International PEN

The International PEN Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee was established in Stockholm in 1978 at International PEN’s 43rd Congress. Orginally called the Programme and Translation Committee, it aimed to encourage and promote the translation of literature from smaller languages into major world languages (including the three official languages of International PEN – English, French and Spanish) and as a consequence, into many other languages, both widely-spoken and small languages, besides.

Today, the Committee has multiple objectives and functions. Primarily, it focuses on issues of translation and linguistic rights and the effects these issues have on readers and writers across the globe, including at a most basic level, access to literature. Concurrently it places great emphasis on the role that literary translation can play in enabling inter-culture dialogue and exchange.This takes place through a number of year-round activites, including; promoting literature in translation on the multilingual Diversity website, edited by an international Advisory Board of translators and writers from Macedonia, China, Colombia and Malawi among others; developing an e-collection of mutlilingual works of literature; the translation of works from widely spoken into smaller languages; working with other interested groups in campaigning and the creation of publishing partnerships; supporting PEN Centres worldwide in establishing and growing their own Translation and Linguistic Rights Committees.

The current Chair is Josep Maria Terricabras based at the Catalan PEN Centre.

PEN Centres with Translation & Linguistic Rights Committees have signed the International Declaration of Linguistic Rights :  http://www.linguistic-declaration.org/main-gb.htm


2011 Girona Manifesto on linguistic Rights, endorsed by International PEN 

PEN International brings together the writers of the world.

Fifteen years ago, the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights was first made public in Barcelona by PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee.

Today, that same Committee, gathered together in Girona, declares a Manifesto of the Universal Declaration’s ten central principles.

1. Linguistic diversity is a world heritage that must be valued and protected.

2. Respect for all languages and cultures is fundamental to the process of constructing and maintaining dialogue and peace in the world.

3. All individuals learn to speak in the heart of a community that gives them life, language, culture and identity.

4. Different languages and different ways of speaking are not only means of communication; they are also the milieu in which humans grow and cultures are built.

5. Every linguistic community has the right for its language to be used as an official language in its territory.

6. School instruction must contribute to the prestige of the language spoken by the linguistic community of the territory.

7. It is desirable for citizens to have a general knowledge of various languages, because it favours empathy and intellectual openness, and contributes to a deeper knowledge of one’s own tongue.

8. The translation of texts, especially the great works of various cultures, represents a very important element in the necessary process of greater understanding and respect among human beings.

9. The media is a privileged loudspeaker for making linguistic diversity work and for competently and rigorously increasing its prestige.

10. The right to use and protect one’s own language must be recognized by the United Nations as one of the fundamental human rights.

Committee of Translation and Linguistic Rights of PEN International



  1. Well done to Irish PEN for spearheading this campaign. How easy it is to become complacent in Ireland now, as we are urged to take on more and more guilt for the sins of the recent past, rather than to stand up and shout and stamp our feet. I feel that in supporting this campaign I am linking arms with a long history of Irish writers who have suffered persecution for their views. As a writer who has often been at the receiving end of extreme moral spite for my own writing on religion and its social powers, I rejoice to think that there are friends and colleagues who are challenging bad laws in the interest of freedom of the arts and human rights.

  2. Thank you for your initiative on this this. Please add my support to your campaign.

  3. I fully support Irish PEN’s campaign to abolish the offence of blasphemy.

  4. Thank you for initiative and energy devoted to this very necessary campaign which has my full support.
    I nearly said “God bless you”!

  5. I also fully support Pens campaign to abolish the offence of blasphemy

  6. I fully support this PEN initiative – do you have a petition set up? If not, it may be a good idea – strength in numbers.

  7. Why are the legions screaming about Pussy Riot’s dilemma so silent on this issue?

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