Friday, 12 December 2008

60th Annniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights

December 10th 2008 marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 19 states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
An event was held on 10th December at Edinburgh's independent bookshop Wordpower, to commemorate this anniversary.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has apparently been translated into more languages than any other document. The most translated poem ever is entitled June, and was written by Shi Tao, a Chinese poet who has been imprisoned for the past 10 years, for his writings. International PEN promotes freedom of speech and lobbies on behalf of imprisoned writers; the Scottish branch of PEN is championing his cause. (If you would like a postcard of this poem, to send to the Chinese ambassador in Britain, please contact, giving your mailing address, and one will be sent to you.)

At this event we were reminded that the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk (well before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006) had been on trial for mentioning the Armenian genocide; the charges were later dropped. A Libyan journalist was imprisoned and tortured for his writings on the internet, and died soon after his release. Another Chinese writer wrote an email via yahoo, that the authorities did not like. The email was traced but only because yahoo allowed it to be. The writer of that email is now in prison. Does this make you feel uneasy? It does me. Doesn't it raise questions of responsibility of these large companies who offer the freedom of email and internet access? Don't freedom and responsibility go together?

Yahoo, which many of us use, brings these issues closer to home. Also very close to home is the case of the Welsh poet Patrick Jones who was due to read at the Cardiff branch of Waterstone's, but whose reading was cancelled after a letter of protest was sent by a Christian group who called his poems 'blasphemous'. (However, he signed copies of his book collection in the street instead.) And today he read at the Welsh Senedd. There were protests, but the reading went ahead. You can read more about this at the link below.

A few days ago I went for a walk in Dalkeith Park, to celebrate the ability to walk again, after recovery from a flu bug. The sun is always low in the sky at this time of year in this northern latitude, but at one point, it was below the bridge and could not be seen, but its reflection on the water was very clear. This is the photograph I took, and these are the words that came to mind. To me, the sun is the great giver of life. I hope no-one will consider the words blasphemous!