Tuesday, 15 November 2011

International Day of the Imprisoned Writer

The day began by helping to lift a heavy metal cage from the stage door of the Festival Theatre into the van that J and D had driven through from Glasgow. We then drove to the Scottish parliament. There was a brief discussion regarding the merits of the architecture. I like the arrangement of bundles of pale mustard coloured sticks on the front, some of them slightly warped, giving the impression of naturally curved reeds and vulnerability [though they are actually quite stout, as D discovered, when he tried to dislodge one when the policemen weren't looking]. It has to my eye a kind of makeshift appearance, something cobbled together - and of course to give that effect takes a lot of skill and contrivance.

Various quotations are carved into the stonework on one side of the building, and this one, by Alan Jackson, is one of my favourites.

We set up the cage in front of the Parliament. We found that two of the sides had become lodged together, but with the aid of a stout stick and muscle power, we managed to prise them apart. A spacious cage was then prepared for Ron Butlin, the Edinburgh Makar, who soon found himself behind bars.

The event was to draw attention to the plight of writers around the world, imprisoned because of what they have written. Many countries and political regimes do not respect human rights and freedom of expression.

Alba, the Gaelic TV channel filmed the event and interviewed Ron. A small crowd gathered. A couple of well-behaved golden haired dogs added some flashy brightness to the overcast day. But it did not rain. J had brought along a tartan tarpaulin to put over the cage, to protect the imprisoned writer, should it rain.

Several Kurdish people turned up and thanked us for making this demonstration particularly as Ragip Zarakolu a Turkish writer and publisher, has recently been arrested again in Turkey. One of them talked about how difficult it is for Kurdish people in Turkey today. He has lived in the UK for 8 years now, and he drives a taxi. He texted his friends when he heard about our event.

A couple of poems were read out, written by imprisoned writers, one of them Liu Xiaobo, who received the Noble Peace Prize last year but was unable to go to Oslo to receive it. Scottish PEN organized the creation of a special 'imprisoned writer empty chair', which flew to Oslo to be present at the Nobel Prize ceremony, symbolizing those writers unable to attend because of arrest, detention or imprisonment in their own country.

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