A note on: Sam Jordison writes on English PENfest for Galley Beggars

A very generous reflection by Sam Jordison on the fest I organised for the latest Galley Beggars Press newsletter = “Not long ago, I attended an event held to raise awareness of English Pen and writers who are currently being held in prisons around the world. I had been asked to speak about a woman called Narges Mohammadi, a woman who was sent to jail for being a member of an organisation called “Step by  Step to Stop the Death Penalty” and for  “committing propaganda against the state.” One of the main focusses of that propaganda campaign was to stop the state killing juvenile offenders. Kids, in other words. She wanted to protect children. 

I could talk about this case for a long time, as well as the trials this woman  has undergone in jail - but it's probably more productive if you have a look for yourself at the web pages her supporters have set up for her - and also if you have a look on the English Pen website. If you like, you can also look at the talk I gave by clicking on this link. There you'll also see several other videos, each one of them moving and important. I'd especially urge you to look at the talk by Steven Fowler, who asked the troubling question of what it is about these writers that makes them speak out? Why don't they stay at home, have an easy life, protect themselves and their families? Why can't they shrug off injustice and oppression like most other people tend to do? Could we really blame them if they opted instead for safety? Could we even blame them, instead, for being so bloody difficult? There's clearly something about some writers, isn't there? They can't shut up. They won't shut up. If you're doing something wrong, they'll tell you - and if that rebounds on them, well, that's the price of truth. 

I realised when Steve was speaking that every single Galley Beggar writer would be in jail if faced with the right (actually, let's call it 'wrong') kind of oppression. I felt a faint flicker of amusement at the thought of trying to encourage Preti Taneja and Alex Pheby and Lucy Ellmann to keep quiet and do as they are told, but mostly, I felt pride and horror. Pride, for obvious reasons. Horror because of the realisation that those writers who are in jail probably have a great deal in common with our friends here, who have given us so much through their books and their lives. 

And I have to tell you that because you read this newsletter, and because you've read this far, you're probably in the awkward club too. So, I salute you, comrade! But I guess that my saying that you might also find yourself on the wrong end of the long stick of an absurd law is really another way of saying that English Pen is a fine organisation and it deserves our support. They're looking out for people like us, after all. I joined up after speaking for Narges and it felt good.“