English PEN publishes international festival guidelines for writers

English PEN publishes international festival guidelines for writers

English PEN is publishing guidelines for writers attending international festivals in countries with poor human rights and censorship records.

The list was drawn-up following a roundtable discussion by writers chaired by English PEN president Philippe Sands.

It suggests researching the country’s record using organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and PEN itself, along with checking out who is funding the festivals.

Authors are also urged to consider how their presence might be portrayed by the hosts and who the audience might be. There are also tips on how to withdraw after accepting an invitation or using the platform to shine a light on oppression.

Sands said: “In the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and with over a hundred writers now imprisoned in Turkey, it is more pertinent than ever to talk about how each of us, as writers, think about our role and responsibilities in deciding whether to accepting invitations and travel around the world.”

English PEN said it was an individual decision whether to attend events in such countries, but writers should be encouraged to promote fundamental human rights when they come under attack.

At London Book Fair, English PEN highlighted how a “hostile immigration environment” in the UK meant some overseas writers had increasing difficulty obtaining visas to come into the country. English PEN has called on the government to be a leader in encouraging authors from all over the world to take part in UK festivals.

Antonia Byatt, director of English PEN, said: “It is essential that writers have freedom of movement in these times. Literature is common human currency, sharing ideas, experiences and values is not only an important part of how we relate to other nations, it is a building block for a free and democratic society. In the year of the Foreign Office’s campaign for free media we need to show that the UK really is a leader.”

The guidelines come after former Irish President Mary Robinson pulled out of the Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai in Janaury in the wake of growing calls for the United Arab Emirates to free human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. The former UN human rights commissioner was due to appear at the event on 2nd March but pulled out after an open letter signed by Stephen Fry, MPs and campaign groups called for the release of Mansoor.