PEN International calls on India to safeguard freedom of expression as the 84th PEN Congress closes in Pune, India

29 September 2018, Pune City – In recent years India’s climate for free expression has severely deteriorated, with writers, journalists and social media users finding themselves increasingly under attack, PEN International said today. The 29th of September marks the final day of the 84th PEN International Congress, which includes writers from over 80 countries.

Each year, PEN International prepares a freedom of expression report on the country in which its Congress is being held.

The report – India: Pursing truth in the face of intolerance – outlines how dissenting voices, be they journalists, writers, academics or students face intimidation, harassment, prosecution, online abuse, and physical violence.

Salil Tripathi, Writers in Prison Committee Chair said: ‘Laws that stifle speech; an environment hostile to dissenting views; and emboldened critics online and in the real world have cast a chill over free expression in India. Journalists and writers have been sued, intimidated, threatened, and sometimes murdered. There is little political will to amend the laws that prevent free expression or to enforce laws that protect the writer. As our report shows, there are courageous women and men exercising their right to live their lives as Tagore wanted Indians to live – in a land where the mind is without fear and the head is held high – into that heaven of freedom may India awake, as it celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s 150-year anniversary.

‘Tagore also said he yearned for a dawn where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls – rising majoritarian nationalism does just that and takes India further away from what it was meant to be.’

Gathering together the voices of writers, journalists, lawyers and academics, the report illustrates the varied ways in which critical voices are targeted and silenced: from the use of overbroad laws; directed attacks online and offline; the systematic stifling of academic research and freedom; and the continued marginalisation of and hostility towards women’s voices.

PEN International President Jennifer Clement said: ‘We have been so honoured to be here with our global membership, meet so many wonderful Indian writers and honour the life and legacy of Mohandas Gandhi and his wife Kasturba. While this gathering has been about the promotion of peace-building and celebrating the power of the written word, it is also about protecting free expression and remembering those of us who pay the ultimate price for exercising this fundamental right. Today we honour Gauri Lankesh, who was shot to death outside her home a year ago. Even though we welcome the progress that has been in the investigation, we’re still waiting for justice. Unless the cycle of impunity is broken, those who want to use violence to silence will be embolden to do so.’

PEN International calls on the Indian authorities to protect its writers, journalists and all others exercising their right to free expression and to bring its legislation in line with its obligations under international law.

Closing the 84th PEN Congress, Ganesh Devy, Director of the Congress said: ‘The first PEN Congress in India since PEN was established 97 years ago, with the presence of writers from 87 countries and representatives of several hundred languages has been a phenomenal experience. The dialogue between writers on truth, freedom and diversity has been very rich. The Congress has also presented a project of translating 100 Indian books into the languages of the world and vice versa. The PEN congress has been a fabulous curtain raiser for the 150th year of Gandhi and Kasturba.’

For more information contact Sahar Halaimzai: sahar.halaimzai@pen-international.org |  +44 00 7514 139606

Note to Editors:

During the 84th PEN International Congress the following activities took place:

PEN International President Jennifer Clement and Executive Director Carles Torner joined local celebrations of Ganesh at the Balgandharva Rangmandir Art Gallery with a visit to an exhibition on Indian scripts and crafts.

Activities in tribute to Mohandas Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi, in celebration of languages across the globe.

PEN International and VIDA: Women in Literary Arts announced a new collaboration, the PEN VIDA Count, to monitor gender disparities in literature through PEN Centres across the globe.

The VIDA count highlights imbalances in publishing by collecting data across genre, book reviews.

Dozens of PEN delegates visited the Aga Khan Palace in Pune to take part in flower laying and a silent prayer as an act of tribute and remembrance to Kasturba and Mohandas Gandhi.

PEN delegates planted 180 trees at Savitribai Phule Pune University as part of the Global Language Park, celebrating the thousands of languages spoken around the world. The finished exhibition will be called Bhasha Van, literally ‘walkway of trees’.

Delegates joined local students on a public wari traveling three kilometres over three hours in celebration of global languages.

PEN International board members Ma Thida and Burhan Sonmez gave speeches on their experiences in prison at Pune’s Balgandharva Rangmandir. PEN International Vice President Eugene Schoulgin described his many visits to imprisoned writers.

The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov, documenting the irregularities in the unjust trial of imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, was screened to dozens in Pune.

The election of three new Vice Presidents, chosen for literary merit

1. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, nominated by Catalan PEN, PEN Uganda and PEN Mali

2. Perumal Murugan, nominated by Catalan PEN, PEN South India and PEN Delhi

3. Nayantara Sahgal, nominated by PEN South India, PEN Delhi and San Miguel PEN Centre

The creation of five new PEN centres

PEN Iraq

PEN Perth

PEN Moscow

PEN Cape Verde

PEN Guinea-Bisseau

Source: PEN International