PEN International says Free Expression Severely Deteriorated Under Modi Government

At the conclusion of the 84th PEN International Congress in Pune, the global body for writers released a report titled “India: Pursuing truth in the face of intolerance”, urging the present government to do its bit to protect freedom of expression in the country. The report finds that there has been a tendency towards the curbing of free speech under the present Modi government. When asked about this conclusion, Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International said, “(There has been) a rising tide of violence, impunity, extended pre-trial detentions, impunity and surveillance.”


Using a specific example to highlight her point, Clement said, “While this gathering has been about the promotion of peace-building and celebrating the power of the written word, it is also about protecting free expression and remembering those of us who pay the ultimate price for exercising this fundamental right. Today we honour Gauri Lankesh, who was shot to death outside her home a year ago. Even though we welcome the progress that has been in the investigation, we’re still waiting for justice. Unless the cycle of impunity is broken, those who want to use violence to silence will be embolden to do so.”


PEN International began as International PEN in London in 1921, and the acronym “PEN” originally stood for “Poets, Essayists, Novelists”. The acronym now stands for “Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists”. It is an NGO with the aim of promoting intellectual cooperation and friendship among writers all over the world. In a statement speaking of the changes that there have been to freedom of expression in India, Clement said before poignantly ending on a question, “The government should be thinking about the things that bring people together and not tear them apart. I think what PEN is concerned about is that India has always been a country that one could uphold for being tolerant and being democratic. It used to be that India could be held as an example to the rest of the world. It’s very sad to see this turn. What would the future of such a democracy look like.”

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