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PEN International has signed a manifesto, promoted by the organisation's Catalan Centre, in favour of the release of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez. 15 centres from around the world have joined the call. Jennifer Clement, PEN International's current president, was in Barcelona today to present the document at Ateneu Barcelonès alongside Carles Torner, the organisation's executive director and Àngels Gregori, president of the Catalan centre. After the event, Clement was to head to Lledoners prison to visit the pair. The text of the manifesto strongly urges Spanish authorities "to withdraw the charges against Sànchez and Cuixart and release them". It centres on the two prisoners as writers. In Cuixart's case, he is a member of PEN Català and leader of the cultural organisation Òmnium.

In defence of freedoms

Clement explained that she had been great friends with Ramon Xirau in Mexico, for which reason she has always felt close to Catalonia. Xirau was a Catalan poet who went into exile with his parents in Mexico during the Franco regime. Clement also defended her organisation's involvement in the case: "[PEN] has always defended the most important causes". As examples from its century of history, she cited fighting for rights in Tibet, India, Turkey, Venezuela, Ukraine and Israel. Torner asked journalists and members of the public to join together "in search of the truth" and to end with the fictional narratives, like the accusations of rebellion and sedition.

Resistance to human rights violations

Àngels Gregori wanted to make it clear that PEN's Catalan affiliate, one of the oldest in the world, has spent 95 years defending Catalan culture from repression and supporting writers from around the world. Carles Torner explained that a 2017 PEN Congress, with a hundred delegates from around the world, approved a first resolution denouncing the restrictions on expression and demonstration in Spain. Then, after the repression of the referendum and the arrests of Cuixart and Sànchez, PEN International positioned itself against the police policies. They also undertook a legal study of the restriction of freedoms. Torner said this report will be presented to the UN when Spain undergoes its regular review into the situation of rights and freedoms in the country before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The text

In the manifesto, PEN denounces "the excessive restrictions on freedom of expression" and expresses regret for the persecution of artistic expressions. On Cuixart and Sànchez specifically, it says that "beyond having peacefully demonstrated their ideas, they worked to guarantee, from the bodies they head, the free movement of the ideas of the writers of Catalonia".

The opposition campaign

Mario Vargas Llosa, a former president of PEN International, responded to the statement ahead of its publication, in an article published yesterday, saying it is full of "half-truths". Torner responded today that Vargas Llosa's article is full of inaccuracies. He said that PEN Català is not a pro-independence organisation, as Vargas Llosa says, but has a wide range of members of all political persuasions. He accused him of spreading lies when, at the end of his article, he claimed only two people were actually injured during the Catalan referendum. "The truth has to come back," Torner said.