The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN was set up in 1960 as a result of mounting concern about attempts in an increasing number of countries around the world to silence critical voices through the harassment and imprisonment of writers. The Committee works on behalf of all writers, publishers, editors, and journalists who are detained or otherwise persecuted for their opinions expressed in writing and on behalf of those under attack for their peaceful political activities or for the practice of their profession, provided that they did not use violence or advocate violence or racial hatred, or in any other way violate the Charter of International PEN.
In the meantime, over 50 of a total of 140 member Centers of International PEN have founded their own national Writers in Prison Committees. Coordinated by the International WiPC in London, these are actively campaigning for an improvement in the conditions of their persecuted colleagues. They send protest letters and appeals to the governments concerned and lobby their own governments to intervene on behalf of detained writers and investigate cases of torture and killings. Through establishing contact with the families, and where possible, directly writing to the prisoners themselves, they provide encouragement and hope. Particularly endangered colleagues may be nominated as honorary members by individual Centers.
The International Writers in Prison Committee at the London head office of International PEN gathers information about individual cases from a wide variety of sources, seeking to attain confirmation through two independent sources. Sources include press reports, reports from individuals in the region in question, reports from other human rights groups, from PEN members themselves, prisoners’ families, lawyers, and friends, exile groups, etc.
Every six months, the International PEN Writers in Prison Committee in London publishes a country by country list of all cases PEN has been involved in during that period. The list is updated daily. A monthly bulletin informs member Centers of the latest developments. Rapid action campaigns are organized on behalf of colleagues whose life and health are in danger.
International PEN has consultative status at the United Nations and with UNESCO. Two full-time assistants work in support of the elected Chair of the International Writers in Prison Committee.