PEN America publishes safety guide for artists facing repression

“Dealing with persecution can be an isolating and trying experience,” a new guide for endangered artists around the world advises. “While institutions designed to support you may seem distant and intimidating, you must remember that you are not alone. “

This safety guide, published by the non-profit anti-censorship organization PEN America, is intended to help artists navigate and overcome threats to their freedom and creativity. Written by PEN’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) group, it advises individuals on how to deal with threats from governments, political organizations, police, military and extremist groups. PEN notes that the manual was written in response to a number of “skyrocketing” cases of artists at risk seeking resettlement assistance and emergency grants in the face of oppression.

The guide is published in English, Spanish and French.

“This year, we have seen an explosion of protest movements around the world, but also desperate attempts by governments to unjustly and sometimes violently muzzle artistic freedom and dissent,” explains Julie Trebault, director of the ARC and one of the guide’s authors. “Artists have been leaders in the global rights and justice movement, and are often the targets of arrests, detentions, kidnappings and even murder.

PEN America notes that globally, artists have recently helped lead protest movements in the United States in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police as well as activism in places ranging from Chile to Hong Kong via Nigeria and Belarus. Threats have ranged from censorship to kidnapping, torture and murder, he adds.

Some of the areas covered in the guide include the tactics used by governments and others to attack artists, risk assessment strategies, digital security threats, and ways to gather evidence to ensure that these menacing artists are ultimately held accountable. In addition to its recommendations, the guide includes an appendix with a list of resources such as writers’ organizations, emergency funds, and groups to help with relocation or legal issues as well as specific advice from prominent artists. (ARC interviewed 13 artists to help them write strategies and other advice.)

“Why are you threatened? How do you receive threats? Is there anything you can do now to reduce the abuser’s ability to threaten you? Asks a section of the guide while urging users to document every element of the attacks they have encountered.

“The power of creative expression to stir up passions and change minds is what makes regimes see artists as a threat,” says Trebault. “We hope that our guide will be an essential resource for those who face danger.”

PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers around the world that make up PEN International, which is dedicated to defending free speech.


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Susan W. Lloyd

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