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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

Thai Poet and Activist Sentenced to Additional Years in Prison for Breaking Lèse-Majesté Laws

April 29, 2024
Thailand's lèse-majesté law criminalizes insults against the monarchy and carries a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment per count if convicted.

Iranian Dissident Rapper Toomaj Salehi Sentenced to Death

April 26, 2024
(NEW YORK) – Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), PEN America, and Index on Censorship strongly condemn the death sentence imposed on Iranian rapper and human rights defender Toomaj Salehi for “spreading corruption on Earth” issued by a revolutionary court in Tehran on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. Salehi now faces possible execution, as his lawyer plans […]

PEN America urges extension of Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Iran

March 18, 2024
PEN America joins a coalition of Iranian and international human rights organizations calling on the UN’s Human Rights Council to extend the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
More News
Unsplash Jail Cell

PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award: Our annual award for a courageous writer currently imprisoned

The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, a powerful tool in PEN America’s year-round efforts to end the persecution of writers and defend free expression, is designated to honor a writer imprisoned for their work. Of the 53 jailed writers who have received the Award since 1987, 46 have been released — due in part to the global attention and pressure it generates.

The 2023 Pen/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honored Iranian activist and writer Narges Mohammadi, re-imprisoned in November 2021, who is currently serving multiple sentences totaling more than 10 years. Despite her incarceration, she continues to fearlessly write, document, and advocate from behind the walls and bars of Evin prison.

Learn more about past honorees.

Poetry Reading at the Union Square Market

PEN America Writers Emergency Fund

The PEN America Writers Emergency Fund supports writers in dire need in the U.S. and worldwide. The U.S. Writers Aid Initiative provides direct financial support to writers facing economic hardships in the U.S.; and the Writers at Risk Program shines a spotlight on the plight of writers globally, providing behind-the-scenes assistance and advocacy support for writers facing persecution.


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.
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.
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.
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.

Send a Letter of Support to Nobel Peace Prize Winner Narges Mohammadi

Narges Mohammadi, the 2023 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write honoree and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has shown singular courage in standing against government repression of women, writers, activists, intellectuals, and cultural figures who face unspeakable consequences for daring to speak out or write. Mohammadi’s case is among dozens of cases of writers and activists who have faced political repression in Iran in the last year alone. The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write award kicks off a campaign of advocacy for the awardee’s freedom.  PEN America gathers letters of solidarity to deliver to the winner.

Narges Mohammadi FTW Award Featured Image