Istanbul, November 15, 2012—PEN launched its new Declaration on Digital Freedom today at the Istanbul Book Fair, signaling its embrace of free expression challenges in the 21st century. The document is a concise statement of PEN’s position on digital technologies and was approved by 20,000 of the world’s leading writers earlier this year at the PEN Congress in Gyeongju, Korea.

“In the digital age, people are exchanging more information and ideas than ever before—but we are also revealing more information to governments and third parties and providing potential censors with more sweeping tools than any time in history,” said Larry Siems, director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. “Our task at PEN is the same as it was during the analog age: to defend the freedom to read, write, and create, and to ensure governments and other institutions respect and extend these essential rights. It’s just that there’s now more at stake: the possibility that, for once, everyone on earth could have the means to be a writer.”  

The Declaration summarizes PEN’s position on four critical issues: the targeting of individuals by governments; censorship of digital media; government surveillance; and business and human rights.

“More than two-thirds of the people on the current Writers in Prison case list have been targeted because of things they have said in blogs, tweets, and on web sites,” said Marian Botsford Fraser, chair of the Writers in Prison Committee at PEN International. “PEN’s new Declaration on Digital Freedom will be invaluable in our defense of writers at risk.”

Individuals have suffered increasing persecution for their use of the Internet and mobile phones, and governments from China to Cameroon to Uzbekistan routinely censor information on digital media. Digital technologies also provoke important questions about surveillance, as governments can track individuals or monitor communications, often in the guise of fighting crime and terrorism. Companies like Google and Twitter have revenues approaching that of governments, but while their technologies can promote expression, they can also expose writers and activists to a heightened risk of persecution.

The Declaration responds to these complex threats by serving as a guidepost for authors and activists with the hope of fostering productive dialogue. In assembling the document, PEN consulted with experts from academia, business, human rights organizations, government, and international bodies and closely examined the latest international principles and legal cases.

The Declaration is being translated into numerous languages for dissemination to over 100 PEN centers around the world.

PEN American Center is the United States branch of PEN International, which was founded in 1921 as a response to the ethnic and national divisions that culminated in the First World War. Since its founding, PEN has worked to promote international understanding through the promotion of literature and the defense of free expression. PEN American Center was founded in 1922 and is the largest of the 144 PEN centers in 104 countries that constitute PEN International. Its distinguished Members carry on the contributions and achievements of such past Members as W.H. Auden, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Marianne Moore, Eugene O’Neill, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck. Recent presidents include Francine Prose, Ron Chernow, and Salman Rushdie.

For more information contact:
Deji Olukotun, (212) 334-1660 ext. 106