Writers in Prison

by Aki Schilz

Tomorrow we have our first and (sadly) only poetry workshop, led by Francesca Beard. As part of the workshop we will be looking at texts by some of the writers included in the International Pen Writers in Prison anthology, which this year celebrates 50 years of championing the rights of those writers whose texts have led to their unjust incarceration, persecution, and even assassination.

Information on some of the writers in this campaign and extracts of their texts can be found here:

I have been reading through some of these texts and have been deeply moved by the relentless bravery and unremitting force of will which drives these writers to make their voices heard, even in the face of indescribable horror and persecution. Throughout the anthology, a sense of steely resolution provides a backbone for a body of work which is variously stark, solitary, forceful, comforting, uncompromising, revolutionary and beautiful.

Everywhere, even in the bleakest of conditions and in the darkest recesses of human suffering, the relentless luminosity of what Aung San Suu Kyi calls “grace under pressure” exerts its dignified presence. It is precisely this grace that lends integrity to the struggle of these writers who dare speak, who would suffer for the greater good, for freedom of expression, for democracy, for justice. And everywhere, underpinning the politics, the ethics, the socio-historical elements, the loneliness and the destitution, there are tales of love.

I will be writing more on this as we learn more about this valuable campaign. But for now, I wish to include a small note on Liu Xiaobo. On December 25 2009, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison – the harshest sentence in recent history of a dissident – for “spreading rumours and defaming the government, aimed at subversion of thestate and overthrowing the socialism system in recent years”.

Click on the image below to read the English translation of Charter 08, the publication that rattled the Chinese government:
Is this defamation? What do you think?

Image c/o http://www.globalvoicesonline.org

Addressing the court on the day he was sentenced, Liu Xiaobo released the following statement, for his wife:

“She cannot be present today, but I still want to tell you, my sweetheart, that I’m confident that your love for me will be as always.

Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my every cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning… My love is hard, sharp, and can penetrate any obstacles. Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes.”

It is important to remember that the voices that speak for those who cannot are not simply voices, disembodied entities created to centre the balance of justice. These are real people who, when they are imprisoned, leave behind loved ones who must suffer, too. Even philosophers feel, even dissidents get lonely, and they, like us, are not invulnerable. It is our turn to stand up for those who dare stand up for us.

This has really made me think. I hope that anyone out there reading feels the same way.