PEN International Congress 2018

Irish PEN Treasurer Timmy Conway’s report on the 84th PEN INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS, held in Pune, India in September 2018

The Congress marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great Mahatma Gandhi.  Many functions were arranged in the Universities to mark his life. They say that South Africa gave India Mister Gandhi and India gave South Africa the Mahatma.

It was an extraordinary congress and PEN called upon the Indian government to act to protect freedom of expression.

Spaces for free expression are shrinking: dissenting voices be they journalists, academics, writers or students – face intimidation, online abuse, violence. Some of our friends have been jailed, interrogated and murdered.

We received reports of the many writers that have been murdered, such as Malta’s foremost investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia. PEN International’s global membership of writers continue to reiterate our call for an independent, impartial and effective investigation into her killing. We remembered the murdering of the reporter Marie Colvin who was about to report how a tiny baby had died that day because there was no medicine, how civilians, cold and terrified, were being targeted by President Assad’s Military. The people of Homs in Syria, she said, felt the world had forsaken them.

We remembered the campaign on the 15th November 2017 engaged writers to write letters of solidarity to our focus cases in Honduras, Equatorial Guinea, Syria. The campaign received wide-spread coverage. Ai Wiewei’s letter to Zehra Dogan went viral in Turkey. We reached over 12.7 million people on social media.

At the Lviv Congress – The Women’s Manifesto was approved unanimously. The international campaign around the manifesto was launched on International woman’s day 8 March 2018.  The Manifesto has been since translated into more than 30 languages. It was presented to PM of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon. The manifesto aims to protect free expression for women by combating and eliminating the silencing of women worldwide. Through the writers Circle and readers Circle we achieved our best social figures in months – reaching 17.2 million people with #ReadWomenPEN. These are enormous figures and shows the strength of PEN international and how it can be a major voice for imprisoned writers.

The worldwide effect of the PEN International Women’s Manifesto was translated and distributed reaching 12.7 Million which was a massive success and brought PEN into the world of writers.

PEN international is a body of writers, they are our family and we collectively have a voice. Although small in number we continue to have enormous influence.

(c) Timmy Conway