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PEN Emergency Fund

Ideally in a constitutional state everyone is free to say or write what he wants. A writer must cause serious offence, before those who feel aggrieved will start legal proceedings. And if matters come to a head, everything is conducted in open court, where everyone can check the proceedings. That is the usual and democratic procedure.
However, this cannot be taken for granted everywhere. In many countries, among them African, Asian and Latin American states, the authorities will pounce on anyone who publishes material in opposition to the official doctrine.
Writers, journalists, poets and columnists are often imprisoned without any trial. They are refused access to lawyers, sometimes they are tortured. Their relatives often do not know what condition they are in, or whether they are alive.

The international writers’ organization PEN tries in every possible way, but mainly through publicity, to reverse the fate of these writers under persecution. Investigators of the Writers in Prison Committee try to map cases against writers and bring them to the public’s attention. Unfortunately these cases amount to hundreds every year.
In addition to this, since 1970 PEN has a special section which mainly provides material assistance. The Foundation PEN Emergency Fund supports persecuted writers and writers in exile – and occasionally their families – with a non-recurrent allowance to support themselves in a critical emergency. The idea of this fund was first proposed by the Dutch writer A. den Doolaard, who with the help of the German author Heinrich Böll among others managed to support many writers, particularly from the Eastern European countries.
In the 1980s Henk Bernlef took over the chair. The centre of interest shifted from Eastern Europe to Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Since 2003 the fund is chaired by the writer Rudolf Geel. Together with Jan Honout, former treasurer of PEN International, they form the fund’s executive committee.

The PEN Emergency Fund can only continue its work if sufficient funds become available to make payments to writers and their families. Over the years PEN Centres everywhere have contributed to the fund. In recent years they have been joined by institutional donors, such as NOVIB, Lira and Prisoners of Conscience. In order to its operations a steady supply of funds is vital. That is why, apart from a careful allocation of resources, fund-raising demands the continuous attention of the executive committee.

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© PEN Emergency Fund, 2010.
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