(New York) – On International Translation Day, PEN America celebrates and defends translators for helping us bridge divisions and share experiences. According to PEN America’s latest Freedom to Write Index, at least 21 translators were detained or imprisoned in 2022 for their free expression.

“We call on the United Nations to develop a framework for protecting writers, including translators, from persecution. Through a deep understanding of cultures and languages, translators help us share our feelings and ideas. They are essential partners in our mission to foster dialogue between people and cultures and dream of a world grounded in human rights through the power of words. They bring shared meaning and emotion to otherwise hidden experiences, in particular for people around the world facing isolation due to war, pandemics, or political repression,” said Polina Sadovskaya, Advocacy and Eurasia Director at PEN America. 

PEN America’s work supporting translators includes translation and cultural exchange programs and advocacy supporting translators. The PEN Translation Committee has advocated for translators for over 50 years. Their 2023 manifesto on literary translation urges publishers and the broader public to recognize literary translation as writing within its own right and calls on translators to embrace the “transformative potential” of their work to counter injustice.

In total, 311 writers were jailed in 2022, according to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index. Translator and poet Keyvan Mohtadi remains imprisoned in Iran for his work. He was recently placed in solitary confinement for reciting a poem while in prison. Translators in Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Türkiye, Myanmar, Algeria, and China have also been recently at risk. 

Earlier this year, PEN America, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and PEN Armenia partnered to organize the translation symposia PEN/Penn Your Language My Ear. The symposia brought poets and translators together to translate both contemporary Russian poetry into English and contemporary American poetry into Russian. An anthology of translated works will be published by Deep Vellum, and selected translations have been published in World Literature Today, The Annulet, and Jacket2. The project facilitated dialogue and established connections through literature amid the closing space for free expression in Russia. 

About PEN America’s Freedom To Write Index and Writers at Risk Database

PEN America’s Freedom To Write Index, now in its fourth year, includes case studies of detained writers, an overview of global trends, and country-specific threats to writers and free expression. It complements the PEN America’s Writers at Risk Database, which catalogs writers, journalists, artists, and public intellectuals under threat around the world. 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more, visit PEN.org 

For further information or to request an interview, please contact Dietlind Lerner, [email protected] / +1 310 699 8775