International PEN Congress 2012

PEN Members from over 80 countries around the world gather for prominent literary gathering– The 78th PEN International Congress

 The following report on the 78th PEN International Congress is by J. Anthony Gaughan:

The 78th Pen International Congress was held in Gyeongju, South Korea, from 9 to 15 September 2012.  Eighty centres from around the world were represented at the Congress.  The 300 delegates were formally welcomed by Gil-Won Lee, president of Korean Pen.

In his key-note address John Ralston Saul emphasised the crucial role of Pen in defending and safe-guarding freedom of expression, the well-spring of democracy and the foremost bulwark of human rights.  The theme of theCongress was ‘Literature, media and human rights’.  In the light of the remarkable development of digital media Congress approved for distribution a ‘Declaration of Free Expression and Digital Technologies’ which deals with clear and urgent questions about the relationship between digital technologies and freedom of expression.  The Pen principles outlined in the declaration apply to the Internet, blogs, micro-blogs, social networks, email, voice-over, Internet Protocol calling and texting and electronic devices such as computers, cellular phones, smart phones, mini-computers, and tablets.

Reports were presented and discussed at the various committees: Writers for Peace Committee, Writers in Prison Committee, Women Writers’ Committee and Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee.  The reports to the Writers for Peace Committee covered the well-known areas of conflict around the world.  Some were quite enlightening and provided a much more complex picture of these areas than that presented by the Western media outlets. 

The Writers in Prison Committee had to hand on updated list of writers who during the past year had been killed, imprisoned or otherwise victimised for campaigning for and exercising freedom of expression and for their attempts to expose corruption in autocratic regimes of the left and the right.  The steps Pen had taken to assist them was discussed and how efforts to this end could be made more effective.  Resolutions and recommendations advocating the lifting of laws banning freedom of expression and requesting the release of journalists and writers in prison for defending human rights and the exercise of free speech were passed and forwarded to the authorities in Belarus, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Syria and Vietnam. 

Reports to the Women Writers’ Committee highlighted the continuing appalling plight of women in Islamic countries.  An unusual issue – the proposed international standardisation of the Portuguese language – was brought before the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee.  This concerned a project by the Portuguese government to fundamentally reform the Portuguese language.  Their stated aim is to make the language more amenable to use in the electronic media and to make it more user-friendly to those speaking it in countries beyond Portugal, such as Brazil, East Timor, Mozambique etc.  Portuguese academics, scholars and writers strongly oppose the project arguing that it will lead to an unacceptable redaction of the language.  After a number of informative presentations the Pen Committee guaranteed its support for their stand.

John Ralston Saul was elected to serve as president for another three years.  The financial statement which indicated a significant credit balance was passed.  It was announced that the next Congress would be held next September at Reykjavik, in Iceland.

PEN International press Release on the 78th PEN International Congress

Gyeongju, Korea– Over 300 delegates have gathered in Korea’s historical city Gyeongju for the 78th PEN International Congress. The Congress was launched by host centre President Gil-Won Lee, which this year explores themes around Literature, Media and Human Rights.

PEN’s diverse and unique community of writers and members gather each year to share ideas, discuss new campaigns and initiatives,highlight emerging issues and challenges to freedom of expression around the world.

The Congress will see keynote speeches by Nobel Laureates , Wole Soyinka and Jean Marie Gustave Le Clezio as well as training sessions and workshops, lectures, literary events and networking sessions. The annual congress is an opportunity for members from all centers to share their diverse expertise and experience.

In his opening speech, PEN International President John Ralston Saul echoed the core purpose of PEN around the world:

 “Through all of [our] work we must constantly remindourselves that our cause is literature.  Literature and freedom of expression are neither a nicety nor a legal technicality.  They are a way of imagining  the relationship between peoples.  Between people.  People who may disagree or dislike each other or, in fact, know nothing about each other.”

 At the opening Ceremony, PEN International announced its Declaration on Free Expression and Digital Technologies, which will address concerns around digital technology, particularly freedom of expression through digital media.

 PEN plays a global role in promoting literature and protecting freedom of expression.

Notes to editors:

PEN International celebrates literature and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, our global community of writers now comprises 144 Centres spanning more than 100 countries. Our programmes,campaigns, events and publications connect writers and readers for globalsolidarity and cooperation. PEN International is a non-political organizationand holds consultative status at the United Nations and UNESCO.

For press and other enquiries please contact:
PEN International Campaigns & Communications Manager Sahar Halaimzai.
Email: Sahar.Halaimzai@pen-international.org
Tel: +44 (0)20 7405 0338
Mob: +44 (0)7596 767912

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