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John Ralston Saul notes the rise of a ?new authoritarianism?
INTERNATIONAL PEN, the worldwide community of writers and foremost advocate of free expression, met Sept. 25-Oct. 3 for its annual congress.

PEN?s 76th International Congress urged increased campaigning on behalf of silenced and imprisoned colleagues.

On the eve of the congress, John Ralston Saul, International PEN president, issued a warning: ?Let us not deceive ourselves. This is an increasingly dangerous era for freedom of expression, and so for literature and for smaller cultures.

?There is a new authoritarianism on the rise around the world, including growing waves of old-fashioned nationalism, bigotry and populism on every continent. We are here in Tokyo to stand up and make our voices heard on behalf of those who are stopped from writing and speaking out.?

Nobel Prize winner Gao Xingjian of China and Canadian novelist and Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood were among those present during the annual conference, which this year tackled the theme ?The Environment and Literature?What Can Words Do??

The congress, in particular, sought new ways to raise awareness of key issues among readers and writers across the globe, with a particular focus on the state of free expression in the Asia Pacific region in countries such as China, Burma, Vietnam and Nepal.

?We see frightening situations in countries such as Mexico, where the murder of journalists is running ever more out of control,? said Saul. ?We face deeply frustrating situations in countries such as China and Vietnam, where the imprisoning of writers continues to undermine the credibility of their governments in the rest of the world.?

The year 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of International PEN?s Writers in Prison Committee. Since 1960, the committee has been at the forefront of global campaigning for the rights of writers to freely express their ideas.

Throughout the year, PEN Centers across the world have been celebrating this milestone with events, writings, petitions, special projects and much more.

Defending or having defended prominent writers such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Liu Xiaobo, Vaclav Havel, Salman Rushdie and Josef Brodsky, International PEN now campaigns on behalf of almost 900 print and Internet writers, editors and journalists.

The 50th anniversary campaign, Because Writers Speak their Minds, was marked with a special exhibition during the 76th congress.

The congress was hosted and organized by Japan PEN, one of the leading PEN Centers in the Asia Pacific region. Japan PEN also hosted the congress on two previous occasions, in 1984 and 1957; the latter was attended by luminary writers such as John Steinbeck and John Dos Passos.

The Philippine Center of the International PEN was represented in the conference by poet-essayist José Wendell Capili and novelist Jun Cruz Reyes. Both were recipients of a grant from Japan PEN with some support from the Philippine PEN.

The Philippine Center of the International PEN will hold its annual congress on Dec. 4-5 in Cebu. International writers from Japan, Singapore, Spain, Mexico and other countries will attend the Cebu conference, according to National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, Philippine PEN chair.

International PEN celebrates literature and promotes freedom of expression. Founded in 1921, its global community of writers now spans more than 100 countries. PEN programs, campaigns, events and publications connect writers and readers wherever they are in the world.