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The Power of Words: Future Challenges for Freedom of Expression 88th PEN International Congress

Thursday 15 September 2022 - 3:04pm


Hosted in Uppsala by Swedish PEN from 27 September to 1 October 2022 - themed THE POWER OF WORDS - Future Challenges for Freedom of Expression - PEN International’s 88thCongress aims to discuss and challenge PEN’s understanding of issues such hate speech, digital surveillance and the importance of freedom of expression and information in relation to climate change, war and post-conflict, as well PEN’s work moving forward.

Freedom of expression is under pressure, facing threats old and new. Authoritarian regimes are gaining power across the world, shrinking democratic spaces offline and online, while increasing control and surveillance. Extremist voices are challenging democratic political systems, using hate speech to fuel intolerance and violence. It is now more important than ever that the PEN movement gathers to discuss the state of freedom of expression today and how to counter these challenges. Burhan Sonmez, PEN International President.

Highlights of this year’s gathering are four online events featuring an array of incredible writers, debating the most pressing and thought-provoking questions of our times. All events will be live streamed on PEN International Facebook channel.


Tuesday 27

WELCOME SPEECHES by PEN International President and prize-winning novelist Burhan Sonmez and Swedish PEN President and author Jesper Bengtsson;

THE POWER OF WORDS - keynote speech by acclaimed American novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt on words as catalyst for creation, action, propaganda, destruction, connection, freedom and emancipation; and

UKRAINIAN LITERATURE SET FREE - panel discussion on the depth and complexity of Ukrainian literature- between Ukrainian writers Andrei Kurkov, Lesyk Panasiuk and Daryna Gladun, moderated by literary critic Jenny Aschenbrenner.

Please click here for more information.

Wednesday 28

THE PROBLEM WITH HATE SPEECH - how can we counter the challenges posed by hate speech while guaranteeing freedom of expression? - with acclaimed authors Siri Hustvedt, Salil Tripathi and Danson Kahyana, and Jesper Bengtsson;

ABSENCE AND DISAPPEARANCE – with PEN International President Burhan Sonmez and Syrian writer Yassin Al Haj Saleh exploring the notions of absence and disappearance in the context of societal and political struggle; and

CULTURAL RIGHTS IN TIMES OF WAR AND POST-CONFLICT- how can we safeguard the arts, literature and culture during war and conflict, and ensure these are used to promote peace?- with author Andrei Kurkov, blogger Hayder Hamzoz, editor Neelufer Suhrabi, academic Andrea Lesic and poet Germán Rojas.

Please click here for more information.

Thursday 29

THE DANGER OF WRITING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE – what does climate change means for the protection of writers at risk and PEN’s work? - with Mexican American author Jennifer Clement and Swedish journalists Erik Halkjer and Henrik Brandao Jönsson. Moderated by publisher Kerstin Almegård, this event will feature poetry readings by Jonas Gren.

Please click here for more information.

Friday 30

BACK TO THE FUTURE - One hundred years since our foundation, we are now exploring new ways to defend and embrace freedom of expression. What has Pen International achieved in its first century and what should it aim for moving forward? With Burhan Sonmez in conversation with former PEN International Presidents and writers Jennifer Clement, Homero Aridjis and Per Erik Wästberg.

Please click here for more information.

PEN was founded as an international community of writers, ready to counter the nationalism and propaganda shaping public discussion before and during the Second World War. 100 years since its foundation, our ambition is more important than ever, and crucial to a democratic dialogue. The congress in Uppsala is an excellent opportunity to highlight this. Jesper Bengtsson, Swedish PEN President.

In conjunction with the PEN International Congress, a wide range of public activities will be organised around Uppsala in collaboration with local actors and take place in bookshops, libraries, theatres and cultural houses.

Other notable participants to the Uppsala’s gathering include, among others, writers, activists and PEN’ cases: Dareen Tatour, Ma Thida, Danson Kahyana, Iman Humaydan, Dmitry Strotsev, and Kakwenza Rukirabashaija.

This is the very first in-person Congress since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is organized with support from Sida, Stiftelsen Natur & Kultur, Uppsala city, Uppsala University, Världsklass Uppsala, Swedish Institute, Swedish Arts Council, Swedish Academy, Annika & Gabriel Urwitz’ Stiftelse, Kjell och Märta Beijers stiftelse, The Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, Kjell och Märta Beijers stiftelse, and private donors.

Notes to editors

    • Burhan Sonmez -PEN International President
    • Jesper Bengtsson - President of PEN Sweden
    • Dr. Siri Hustvedt - Writer, Academic
    • Jennifer Clement -former PEN International President
    • Andrei Kurkov - PEN Ukraine President
    • Ola Larsmo – PEN International Board member
    • Salil Tripathi - PEN International Board member
    • Danson Kahyana - PEN International Board member
    • Wezi Msukwa-Panje - Vice President of PEN Malawi
    • Taciana Niadbaj - President of PEN Belarus

  • For further information, and for international press, please contact Sabrina Tucci, PEN International Communications and Campaigns Manager,, Twitter: @pen_int | Facebook| www.pen-international.orG
  • For Swedish Press please contact Karin Wahlén, Kult PR,