St Bride’s Service 2006

Marking the Day of the Imprisoned Writer

A large crowd gathered in the historical printers’ church to remember imprisoned writers and journalists across the world. PEN has been marking this day for over twenty years, using it as a focal point for the Writers in Prison campaign, which supports imprisoned and threatened writers worldwide.

Alongside this solemn remembrance, the Rector, Canon David Meara, called for the celebration of the printed word in its ability to “speak up for truth and justice and call to account those in power and authority”. Those present at the service were made thankful for the freedom they enjoyed in their creativity, and reflected sadly that this was withheld from many writers.

Lady Antonia Fraser read the moving poem “Once I had a home” by the Tibetan poet Gai Tho. This will appear alongside other work from imprisoned writers in PEN’s anthology Another Sky, due to be published by Profile Books in April 2007.

Next to speak was Michael Palin. He read another work from the forthcoming anthology: “We Make Death Easy” by the Iranian writer Faraj Sarkohi, who co-founded the subversive Iranian journal Adineh. The reading included a harrowing description of torture suffered when he was detained and imprisoned after being kidnapped by the Iranian secret services in 1996.

Bel Mooney was the final speaker; she talked about peace, drawing on her recent visit to South Africa’s Robin Island, where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner. She reflected that justice and peace are often mistakenly grouped together, although the struggle for justice often must be violent. Inner peace, which can spread to a greater peace, and the human ability to create were held up by Bel as bastions against injustice and oppression, and evidence that “inch by inch we do make progress”.

The service was both poignant and rousing. Wine flowed liberally afterwards, and while some remained deep in thought, others talked animatedly about oppression, freedom and PEN’s Writers in Prison campaign. Many thanks to St Bride’s for such a historically resonant venue, and to the speakers for such moving and thought-provoking pieces.

Report by Emily Rhodes

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