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Our impact in Europe and Central Asia

Demonstrators gather outside the Russian Embassy in London, August 2018

‘No matter what the price or consequence might be, we will never compromise from the magical creations of writing and of the written word. We would like to repeat once again our gratitude to PEN members, who have stood by us on this path. We will create beautiful things as we continue to be together. Efforts by PEN make us happy, boost our morale. We are grateful’. - News editor, reporter and poet Nedim Türfent, imprisoned on trumped-up terrorism charges.

The right to freedom of expression in Europe and Central Asia is under attack. Scores of journalists remain behind bars in Turkey and in Russia simply for peacefully expressing their views. The space for civil society continues to shrink, with the authorities in several countries adopting increasingly repressive laws and severely restricting fundamental rights and artistic freedoms. 

The impact of our solidarity work


On 7 September, Ukrainian writer and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was freed from Russian prison as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine. PEN International actively campaigned on his behalf throughout his imprisonment. To mark Sentsov's 100th day on hunger strike in August 2018, PEN International and English PEN, in partnership with Save Oleg Sentsov, Amnesty UK, and the Belarus Free Theatre delivered messages of support from all over the world to the Russian Embassy in London.

In July, a court in Istanbul acquitted Reporters Without Borders’ representative in Turkey Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation Chair Şebnem Korur and journalist Ahmet Nesin of ‘engaging in propaganda for a terrorist organization’, ‘incitement to commit a crime’ and ‘praising criminal activities and those engaged in them’. They were facing up to 14.5 years behind bars for taking part in a solidarity campaign for the now-closed pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem. Journalist and publisher Ayşe Düzkan, who was conditionally released in June following her participation in the same solidarity campaign, thanked everyone for their support.

Azerbaijani blogger and writer Rashad Ramazanov was pardoned in March after spending almost six years in prison on fabricated charges of illegal possession and sale of drugs. The PEN community has been actively campaigning for Rashad Ramazanov’s release, sending appeals to the Azerbaijani authorities, collating messages of support and raising awareness of his plight, among other things.

Artist and journalist Zehra Doğan was released in February, after serving over five hundred days behind bars. Ai Weiwei wrote to her on Day of The Imprisoned Writer 2017, generating great media coverage and helping draw attention to her plight. The impact of our solidarity work is highlighted by Zehra in her letter to PEN.



On the one year anniversary of the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, PEN International held a vigil outside Malta´s High Commission in London to honour her legacy. Following the vigil, a statement was released by her family, in which the importance of solidarity work was addressed.

Advocacy work and campaigns

PEN International continues its advocacy work in Malta over the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the situation of press freedom in the country. The organisation took part in an international freedom of expression mission to Malta in October 2018. In June 2019, PEN welcome a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemning the continued impunity for her assassination and calling for the launch of an independent public inquiry within three months.

In October 2018, PEN International, PEN Moscow and St Petersburg PEN issued a joint report entitled Russia’s strident stifling of free speech 2012-2018. The report, available in both English and Russian, sets out our concerns about the situation for freedom of expression in the Russian Federation since President Vladimir Putin was re-elected in May 2012.

PEN International submitted scores of third party interventions at the European Court of Human Rights on precedent setting cases of Turkish journalists. In addition, we continue to observe trials aiming to secure justice for journalists in Turkey.

Strengthening Civil Society

In 2018, "İlkyaz" - a platform for young writers- launched with the support of PEN International, PEN Turkey and Norwegian PEN.

Wales PEN Cymru has been working with Kurdish people around Wales, building connections between local Welsh and Kurdish communities. By providing creative writing and translation workshops for Kurdish diaspora in Wales, particularly women and girls, Wales PEN Cymru is supporting Kurdish speakers to tell their stories and to support the development of Kurdish literature and language in Wales. Through the project, the Centre has also explored the linguistic connections between Welsh and Kurdish, translating traditional folk poetry from one language into the other.

PEN Bosnia and Herzegovina has been using literature and linguistic studies as a bridge to connect young people age 17 - 24 from divided and fragmented communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have produced a video featuring participants speaking about their experience of the project, as well as literature and social change.