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PEN American Center urges rejection of academic boycotts to protect freedom of expression as UK body debates boycott of Israel

(PEN/IFEX) - The following is a 22 June 2007 PEN American Center press release:

PEN Urges Rejection of Academic Boycotts

New York, NY, June 22, 2007 - PEN American Center has released a statement of principle opposing academic and cultural boycotts, saying such actions threaten the internationally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

The statement cites PEN's commitment over many decades to the principle that knowledge, literature, art, and cultural materials belong to humanity as a whole and should circulate freely even in times of conflict and political upheaval, and declares PEN American Center's opposition to "any efforts to inhibit the free international exchange of knowledge, literature, or art, including academic and cultural boycotts." Academic and cultural boycotts harm free expression in both the targeted country and the country where the boycott is practiced, PEN contends, insisting that "the universally guaranteed right of all to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers includes the right to engage in direct, face-to-face discussions, debates, challenges, and collaborations."

The statement follows a vote last month by the University and College Union in the United Kingdom to refer an appeal for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel to its membership for discussion and possible action. That vote has sparked an international debate over the ethics and efficacy of such boycotts.

"We felt it was important to articulate this essential principle at this time," said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. "We commend this statement to our academic colleagues in the U.K. for their consideration, and to all who may be asked to consider similar measures now and in the future."

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PEN American Center Statement on Academic Boycotts

PEN is an organization founded on the principle that the unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations is essential for human coexistence and understanding. It believes that literature, works of art, and ideas must remain common currency among people despite political or international upheavals, and that political and national passions should not prevent or interrupt intellectual and cultural exchange.

In this spirit, PEN American Center emphatically opposes any efforts to inhibit the free international exchange of literature, art, information, or knowledge, including academic and cultural boycotts. We believe that such boycotts threaten the free expression rights not only of those associated with the boycotted institutions but also of those in the countries where the boycott is practiced, and that the universally guaranteed right of all to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers includes the right to engage in direct, face-to-face discussions, debates, challenges, and collaborations.

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