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Writers for Peace: Freedom of Expression and Hate Speech

Monday 27 January 2020 - 11:28am

A 2015 gathering in Paris | Credit: Olivier Ortelpa


Writers for Peace Committee Supported by PEN Club Français

unanimously adopted at the meeting of the Writers for Peace Committee Paris, France 21st January 2020


We have never forgotten.

Five years have passed since the triple attack of January 2015 in Paris, the attack on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, the shooting in Montrouge of a municipal policewoman and the taking of hostages at Hyper Cacher.

These events, like all those around the world, are a constant reminder of the threats to the values of freedom of expression and fraternity between peoples.

Millions of citizens have come down to demonstrate their support for these values, which today are also threatened by leaders bearing hate speech.

Freedom of expression, a precious freedom, offers everyone the opportunity to live together as equals and is, as a corollary of democracy, a fundamental pillar of the sharing of ideas.

Freedom of expression shall be tirelessly defended, not only when ideas are pleasant, but also when they offend, shock or disturb. It is a necessity in any democratic society that is plural, tolerant and open.

Alas, in recent years, an intense and often confused debate has emerged, highlighting hate speech as a constituent of freedom. It is imperative to distinguish between the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and intolerable speech.

In the midst of conflicts that are not so different from those of a hundred years ago –which led to the establishment in 1921 of International PEN in London and the French Pen Club in Paris, by men and women of letters committed to a new dialogue of peace and to the defense of freedom of expression and creation- there is still a need to strike a balance between the fight against intolerance and the need to protect freedom of expression.

Therefore, the most severe cases of speech that propagates, incites, promotes or justifies hatred based on intolerance must be combated, including first and foremost through education and the promotion of human rights.

We, echoing in Paris this hundred-year-old commitment, call for the necessary defense of freedom of expression, which requires constant vigilance, in France and throughout the world.

Contact : Emmanuel Pierrat PEN Club français President

President of the Writers for Peace Committee of PEN International