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Focus Issue

Writers at Risk

The Issue

Writers around the world face grave risks for speaking out, telling truths, and pushing back against the powerful. For that, they are often detained, arbitrarily arrested, attacked, tortured, and sometimes executed. Along with our partners around the world, PEN America and its Members advocate on behalf of writers at risk globally, rallying to their defense and promoting the freedom to write.

PEN America examines threats to free expression in our annual Freedom to Write Index, a year-end count of imprisoned writers worldwide. Explore our Writers at Risk Database for updated tracking of cases of writers, journalists, artists, academics, and public intellectuals around the world facing myriad threats for their writing and expression.

Latest News

PEN America Welcomes Congressional Resolution Condemning Repression in Belarus

September 27, 2021
Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) introduced a resolution in the U.S. House decrying the Belarusian regime and its brutal suppression of the pro-democracy movement over the past year.

PEN America Says Rwanda’s Rusesabagina Denied Fair Trial

September 20, 2021
A court in Rwanda Monday found Paul Paul Rusesabagina guilty of forming and funding a terrorist group.

PEN America to Honor Imprisoned Iranian Writers and Free Expression Advocates Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi at 2021 Gala

September 16, 2021
PEN America today announces three imprisoned Iranian writers and free expression advocates—celebrated poet, screenwriter, and filmmaker Baktash Abtin; novelist and journalist Keyvan Bajan; and author, literary critic, and popular culture researcher Reza Khandan Mahabadi—as recipients of the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.
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Individual Cases

China: Ilham Tohti

China: Ilham Tohti

Ilham Tohti is a Uyghur economist, writer, and professor who is a co-founder of the website Uyghur Online. He has been incarcerated incommunicado since 2017, with no access to his family or his lawyers.
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Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh

Iran: Nasrin Sotoudeh

Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent writer, human rights lawyer and activist, was abruptly re-arrested on June 13, 2018, and taken to Evin prison.
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Russia: Yury Dmitriev

Russia: Yury Dmitriev

Yury Dmitriev, Russian historian and head of the Karelian branch of the human rights center Memorial, was detained in Petrozavodsk on December 13, 2016, on suspicion of production of child pornographic material.
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Egypt: Galal El-Behairy

Egypt: Galal El-Behairy

Galal El-Behairy is an Egyptian poet, lyricist, and activist who has been in detention in Tora Prison in Cairo since March 2018.
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Take Action for Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi

This year, PEN America is honoring imprisoned Iranian writers Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi with the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. All three writers have been imprisoned by the Iranian authorities for their writing, their defense of free expression, and their peaceful opposition to state censorship. Join PEN America in calling for their release now.

2021 Pen Barbey Freedom To Write Award Headshots

Commentary

Myanmar’s Escalating Digital Repression—and Activists' Digital Resistance

Myanmar’s Escalating Digital Repression—and Activists' Digital Resistance

Since Myanmar’s military seized power on February 1, it has employed increasingly sophisticated digital modes of repression, alongside physical and legal measures, to try to stem democratic resistance.
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PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel Testifies in the House on Human Rights and Saudi Arabia

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel Testifies in the House on Human Rights and Saudi Arabia

“The regime’s determination to hunt down dissenters wherever they are instills a sense of fear from which there is no escape, even far beyond Saudi borders.”
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Seven Ways Myanmar’s Military is Cracking Down on Free Expression in the Wake of the Coup

Seven Ways Myanmar’s Military is Cracking Down on Free Expression in the Wake of the Coup

As the United Nations warns that Myanmar could descend into “full blown conflict,” the risks to writers, demonstrators, journalists, human rights activists, and artists couldn’t be more dire.
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As Putin and Lukashenko Meet, Russia’s Role in Fueling Belarus Crackdown Can’t Be Overlooked

As Putin and Lukashenko Meet, Russia’s Role in Fueling Belarus Crackdown Can’t Be Overlooked

Do visa restrictions really matter to Alexander Lukashenko and his closest circle? And if not, then what is important to them?
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