Scottish PEN at Wigtown by Victoria McEwan

4 October 2012

by Victoria McEwan

2012 intern


In the United Kingdom we tend to take our freedom of expression for granted. Most of us have grown up being able to say what we want and with very little consequence if we do say something that is out of turn. As much as us brits love to complain we should be thankful that we live in a country where we can express how we feel without fear of persecution.


Scottish PEN, part of the International Pen network spread over 100 countries, campaigns for the freedom of expression in places where this simple human right is suppressed. PEN is committed to campaigning for writers under threat as well as supporting cross-cultural exchanges to build co- operation and fellowship amongst writers.


“Literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals”. – Scottish PEN


The Scottish PEN event as part of Wigtown Book Festival surprised me, how sombre I felt after hearing the writers: Kirsty Gunn, Pippa Goldschmidt, Andrew Cassell and Chrys Salt reading aloud articles by those who champion freedom of expression. The event was chaired by Jean Rafferty, a highly credited journalist, who has written award winning pieces on shocking subjects such as torture, suicide, murder and prostitution.


Andrew Casell read from a James Harkin’s piece from The Guardian.

“My father went back to Homs and he saw our house and my brother’s house. They’ve taken everything. The army broke the locks to search for weapons, and later let the Sabiha rob our houses. They have stolen everything they can carry – fridges, washing machines, cookers – and broken everything they can’t”. My brother got married two years ago and spent everything he had on his new house. But they’ve even taken the taps. I’m very sad. I miss Homs, but we can’t go back”.


At every Scottish PEN event stands an empty chair representing those that are imprisoned, in hiding or the deceased. To remember them and applaud their fight against the regimes that silenced others.


When I think things I worry about such as the rain or not having time for a coffee they do not compare to the above concerns.


Although the UK does have problems most of us live a comfortable life when compared to the atrocities that happen in countries like Syria where blood is shed due to religion and Mexico where according to Mexico’s National Human Rights commission 74 media workers have been killed since 2000.


We have the advantage of being able to speak out freely against our government and anything else we feel discontent about; the freedom is also there to speak out for those that cannot speak out for themselves.


If freedom of expression is something you feel passionate about find out more at: New members are always welcome. You will be joining an international community, exchanging experiences and ideas with fellow writers and reaching new readers through events and projects.


Do not let those who are silenced remain in silence; we have the power to speak for them.