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
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
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