A new exhibition inspired by imprisoned writers and banned publications joins the permanent exhibition dedicated to Scott, Burns, and Stevenson at the Edinburgh's Writers' Museum in Lady Stair's Close.
"Writers in Prison: A Scottish PEN exhibition on campaigning for free expression" marks the 50th anniversary of International PEN’s Writers In Prison Committee.
It has campaigned to free thousands of imprisoned writers on every continent, from unknown journalists to world famous names such as Salman Rushdie, Vaclav Havel, and Anna Politkovskaya.
A focal point of the free exhibition is the Empty Chair, which has lately been touring Scottish literary festivals, including the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Edinburgh Radical Book Fair.
The specially crafted chair highlights the plight of writers internationally who are imprisoned, suffer horrendous torture, or are in hiding, simply for engaging in freedom of expression.
According to the organisation Reporters Without Borders the ten countries with the worst record on freedom of expression are: Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Iran, Burma, Cuba, Laos, China, Yemen, Vietnam.
Edinburgh author and Scottish PEN member Alexander McCall Smith (who appears with the Empty Chair above) said:
"PEN's support for writers in prison has been a lifeline for many. The Empty Chair symbolises that most powerfully, and I am delighted to have been able to support it."
Jean Rafferty, Scottish PEN’s WIP Committee Convenor, says visitors to the exhibition will learn more about the campaigning of the Committee's work "to combat repression and to support individual writers."
"It is not a dry and dusty look at the principle of free expression, but shows the people who fight and suffer for the right to speak their minds," she said.
As well as the Empty Chair, the exhibition displays examples of some of the ingenious methods imprisoned writers have employed to smuggle their words to the outside world, such as toilet paper, cigarette papers and even bars of soap.
During his seventeen years in an Albanian prison camp, Fatos Lubonya, wrote on cigarette papers. Irina Ratushinskaya spent over three years in a Soviet prison and labour camp yet continued to produce her poems embedded in bars of soap. Ken Saro-Wiwa wrote on toilet paper while imprisoned.
The exhibition at the Writers' Museum is particularly timely since the Chinese writer, Liu Xiaobo, has recently been awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Liu Xiaobo, President of Independent Chinese PEN, is one of Scottish PEN’s adopted cases and members have been campaigning on his behalf since he was imprisoned on Christmas Day 2009.
His ‘crime’ was ‘incitement to subversion’ for his role in publishing Charter 08, a document calling for political reform and human rights. He wrote 224 Chinese characters – seven sentences – and was given eleven years in prison as a result.
Writers in Prison will be on display at the Writers Museum until April 2011 (10am-5pm). Admission is free.