PEN America Washington, D.C.
Who We Are
PEN America’s Washington, D.C. office was established in 2017, expanding the organization’s footprint and equipping it to advance free expression policy priorities with federal government officials. Through our Washington advocacy team, PEN America elevates free expression issues and the threats facing writers and artists around the world with policymakers and other key stakeholders.
PEN America’s Washington office spearheads the organization’s government relations efforts on key domestic and international free expression issues, including:
- Advocating on behalf of writers and artists under threat around the world
- Reviving local news and renewing local journalism
- Countering transnational repression and extraterritorial censorship targeting writers and creatives
- Combating the rise of misinformation and disinformation
- Supporting artistic expression and the creative economy
- Defending internet freedom from digital authoritarianism and safeguarding free expression online
- Upholding academic freedom in higher education and combating educational censorship
- Enshrining cultural rights and protections amid threats to cultural heritage and infrastructure in closed societies and countries at war
(From left to right) PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel; PEN Ukraine President Andrey Kurkov; Kateryna Yesypenko, the spouse of 2022 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recipient Vladislav Yesypenko; NSC Senior Director for Democracy and Human Rights Robert Berschinski; PEN Ukraine Executive Director Tetyana Teren; and Managing Director, PEN America Washington and Free Expression Programs Nadine Farid Johnson, at the White House in May 2022.
Our team works to drive policy change on critical free expression issues, recognizing that free expression, as enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and codified in international human rights instruments, is the foundation that informs and enlivens all other fundamental rights.
We’re working to shift the conversation on free expression issues among policymakers, elevating free expression as a core tenet of democracy that undergirds healthy, enduring social institutions domestically and a key human rights issue in the crafting and conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
Saudi human rights activist Lina al-Hathloul (right), the sister of jailed women’s rights activist and 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recipient Loujain al-Hathloul, speaks at a congressional briefing alongside Egyptian human rights activist Sanaa Seif (left), the sister of jailed blogger and pro-democracy activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, in July 2022.
In the 117th Congress, PEN America’s Washington office provided input on over 40 pieces of legislationwith implications for free expression, covering issues from the local news crisis to the safety of journalists and global press freedom; digital freedom and privacy; artistic freedom and cultural rights; asylum protections for writers at risk; and media literacy, misinformation, and disinformation.
We are actively engaging the Biden-Harris Administration, advocating for human rights defenders who face persecution for their writing, accountability for human rights abuserswho menace free expression under the Global Magnitsky Act and existing laws, and a whole-of-government recognition of free expression and adjacent human rightsas a centerpiece of U.S foreign policy.
Managing Director, PEN America Washington and Free Expression Programs Nadine Farid Johnson testifies on book banning before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government in March 2023.
PEN America’s Washington office is frequently called upon to provide expert commentary and testimony to policymakers in Congress and federal government agencies. On Capitol Hill, we have been invited to testify at hearings convened by subcommittees of the House Judiciary Committee, House Foreign Affairs Committee, and House Oversight and Accountability Committee.
We also share our expert contributions and original researchin concert with several partner coalitions, covering a range of geographies and free expression-related policy issues.
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel testifies on educational censorship before the House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in May 2022.
Defending Freedoms Project
PEN America is a foremost participating member of the Defending Freedoms Project, a coalition initiative of human rights organizations launched by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the U.S. Congress to support prisoners of conscience around the world, call attention to the human rights abuses they endure, and encourage accountability for unjust treatment.
Our Washington office plays a prominent role through DFP in championing the cases of imprisoned writers. We are advocating for imprisoned journalists, bloggers, public intellectuals, and human rights defenders in Egypt, Belarus, Ukraine, and China, including 2022 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recipient Vladislav Yesypenko and thirteen fellow independent journalists in Russian-occupied Crimea; Chinese legal scholar and civil rights activist Xu Zhiyong; Egyptian blogger and pro-democracy activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah; and Belarusian human rights activist and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Ales Bialiatski. We advocate for imprisoned writers in concert with a bipartisan, bicameral slate of lawmakers, including Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)—the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—and Representatives Bob Good (R-VA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Beyer (D-VA), and Nancy Mace (R-SC).
(From left to right) Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL); Ukrainian filmmaker and writer Oleg Sentsov, 2017 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recipient; then-Deputy Director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center Melinda Haring; and Representative Marc Veasey (D-TX), after Sentsov and Haring testified on Russia’s occupation of Crimea before the U.S. Helsinki Commission in February 2020.