PEN America issues a safety guide for artists facing repression

Non-profit organisation cites a “skyrocketing’’ number of individuals around the globe needing help with on-the-ground strategies or relocation

Members of the Cuban 27N dissident movement protesting outside the Ministry of Culture in Havana

Members of the Cuban 27N dissident movement protesting outside the Ministry of Culture in Havana

“Facing persecution can be an isolating and taxing experience,” a new guide for threatened artists around the world counsels. “While the institutions designed to support you may feel distant and intimidating, you must remember that you are not alone.”

This safety guide, published by the nonprofit anti-censorship organisation PEN America, is intended to help artists navigate and overcome threats to their freedom and creativity. Drafted by PEN’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) group, it advises individuals on how to deal with threats from governments, political organisations, the police, the military and extremist groups. PEN notes that the manual was written in response to a “skyrocketing” caseload of artists in peril seeking help with relocation and emergency grants in the face of oppression.

The guide is published in English, Spanish and French.

“This year, we’ve seen an explosion of protest movements worldwide, but also the desperate attempts by governments to unjustly and at times violently muzzle artistic freedom and dissent,” says Julie Trebault, director of ARC and one of the guide's authors. “Artists have been leaders in the global movement for rights and justice, and are often targeted for arrest, detention, kidnapping and even murder.”

PEN America notes that globally, artists have recently helped lead protest movements in the US in response to George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police as well as activism in places ranging from Chile to Hong Kong to Nigeria to Belarus. Threats have stemmed from censorship to kidnapping, torture and murder, it adds.

Among the areas addressed in the guide are tactics that governments and others use to attack artists, strategies for assessing the risks, digital security menaces, and ways of gathering evidence to ensure that those threatening artists are ultimately held accountable. Aside from its recommendations, the guide includes an appendix with a list of resources such as writers’ organisations, emergency funds and groups aiding in relocation or legal matters as well as specific advice from prominent artists. (ARC interviewed 13 artists to help with drafting strategies and other guidance.)

“Why are you being threatened? How are you receiving threats? Is there anything you can do now to reduce the ability of the perpetrator to threaten you?” a section of the guide asks while urging users to document every element of the attacks they have faced.

“The potency of creative expression in kindling passions and changing minds is what makes regimes view artists as threatening,” says Trebault. “We hope that our guide will be a go-to resource for those facing danger.”

PEN America is the largest of more than 100 centres worldwide that make up PEN International, which is dedicated to advocating free expression.