The Human Rights Defender will lead PEN’s work to protect writers Business news

Written by THALIA BEATY, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) – PEN America is expanding its support for writers around the world who face imprisonment for their work by hiring human rights defender Liesl Gerntholtz to head the new PEN / Barbey Freedom to Write Center.

The new center will be based on the work of PEN America, which advocates for closed writers, such as Ukrainian freelance journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko, who was first arrested in Crimea in 2021 and remains imprisoned. PEN America awarded him the PEN / Barbey Freedom to Write Award in 2022 to draw attention to his case in the hopes of being liberated, like many previous recipients of the award, thanks to the award’s profile and the advocacy of other major international writers.

Yesypenko’s wife will accept the award in his place later this month in New York, and PEN America highlighted his case in a demonstration in front of the Russian embassy last year and in press releases following his arrest and February sentence of six years in prison.

Led by Gerntholtz, the new PEN America Center will help monitor more cases of imprisoned writers in real time and try to help them leave their country or otherwise protect themselves. This work is often done out of the public eye because of the hostile environment faced by writers from countries such as Egypt, China and Myanmar.

Political cartoons

Gerntholtz, who headed the women’s rights department at Human Rights Watch, said the center already has a database of about 700 “writers, intellectuals, visual artists, journalists at risk,” adding that the list would be updated. and extended.

Men are disproportionately represented among imprisoned writers, “which means we clearly miss the ways women are silenced,” said Gerntholtz, a native of South Africa.

The PEN / Barbey Freedom to Write Center was established with a $ 10 million gift in October and represents the first donation in a fundraising campaign to mark the 100th anniversary of PEN America. It builds on the organization’s relationship with retired media director Peter Barbey and his family, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said.

“We have raised the budget anew every year, so it is a big step forward for us to collect more multi-year support,” Nossel said. “PEN wasn’t built to last, but we’ve survived 100 years nonetheless and we’re trying to fix that and support the organization with the foundations it deserves.”

She called the gift a “catalytic” contribution, as PEN America wants to set up a fund for greater financial stability, as well as support for its planning.

Since 2016, donations from the Edwin Barbey Charitable Foundation have supported the PEN America Award for Closed Writers. Barbey, his wife Pamela and son Matt advise the fund, which is managed by the Arizona Community Foundation.

Barbey joined the PEN America board in 2021, and as the organization planned its second century, Nossel said she turned to Barbeys.

“I felt comfortable enough to present what I felt we really needed to change our work, and I was very moved, I think I was moved to tears when they said they would be willing to think about cooperation at this level, “Nossel said.

The Barbey gift represents a large part of what PEN America has raised annually through donations in recent years. It reported $ 11.4 million in donations in 2019 and $ 14.3 million in 2020, PEN America reported.

Barbey served for several years as president of the Reading Eagle Company in eastern Pennsylvania, with which his family members worked for generations until it was sold in 2019. He also bought the weekly left-leaning chronicle of New York City Life Glas, in 2015, but I couldn’t save it. The paper closed in 2018, but has since resumed publication under new leadership.

“What I find unique about publishing is that you become an advocate for freedom of expression just because of the nature of the business,” Barbey said, adding that he transferred that to his philanthropy, which supports PEN America and other news organizations.

Barbey said the charity fund, a donor-advised fund, also donated $ 1 million to The Markup, a nonprofit digital research news organization.

Barbey’s father Edwin Barbey set up the fund before he died in 2015.

The family’s assets also come from a textile company now known as VF Corp., founded in Pennsylvania in 1899. The company, now publicly owned, owns clothing brands such as Timberland, Vans, Jansport and Supreme.

In the second measure of freedom of expression around the world, the Committee to Protect Journalists has documented the closure of 293 journalists since December 1, the sixth consecutive year that it has documented more than 250 detained journalists. In the U.S., the CPJ found that 59 journalists were arrested in 2021, usually while reporting on protests.

Barbey said he believes the PEN’s advocacy for imprisoned writers “reaffirms to the American public and press that it’s important.”

“PEN America, which represents our country, is a truly determined activist, an advocate of freedom of writing and freedom of speech,” he said.

Covering Philanthropy and Nonprofits The Associated Press receives support through AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content. For full AP philanthropy coverage, visit

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.

Elvira Parkinson

"Alcohol scholar. Hardcore tv junkie. Wannabe bacon enthusiast. Twitter fanatic. Subtly charming travel guru. Pop culture specialist."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.