The Freedom to Write Index, PEN America’s first annual global count of writers and public intellectuals unjustly detained or imprisoned worldwide.


Covering Jan – Dec 2019, the inaugural Freedom to Write Index shows that at least 238 writers and public intellectuals were imprisoned or held in detention in 2019, facing often brutal treatment and baseless charges. Nearly 60 percent are being held by just three countries: China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

For more than a century, the global PEN network has defended the freedom to write and advocated on behalf of those writers who face reprisals or are at risk as a result of their expression. By highlighting the threats experienced by a broad range of writers, PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, which draws on sources including the extensive casework of PEN International, complements existing datasets that focus on journalists or scholars, helping paint a more holistic picture of attacks on freedom of expression globally, and
shining a light on the impact when individual creative voices are silenced.

Read the Index report here, and click here to check out coverage of the report in The Washington Post. 


We intend the Index to demonstrate how, alongside targeting of journalists and human rights defenders, the detention, imprisonment, and harassment of writers, academics, and creative thinkers represents a distinct authoritarian strategy aimed at quashing criticism, clamping down on independent, authoritative, and resonant voices, and maintaining a tight grip on cultural and historical narratives.

In the Index, PEN America explores trends related to the imprisonment of writers and intellectuals and examines what motivates governments to target these groups in particular. We also explore the types of legal charges most frequently used to target them, and the additional tactics used to suppress writers’ voices.

Alongside the Index, PEN America is launching a new, searchable database of Writers at Risk, containing details of each of the writers in our 2019 Index along with hundreds of other cases of writers, journalists, artists, and intellectuals under threat around the world. This database offers researchers, rights advocates, and the public a wealth of actionable evidence of ongoing global threats to free expression. Explore the Writers at Risk Database here.

We hope you will explore the Freedom to Write Index and the Writers at Risk Database.


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