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When you’re safe and sound, you think that being a writer is the most interesting thing about you, and a kind of protection. The simple statement which is the name of the Writers in Prison Committee cuts right through that to a world where it’s sometimes safer not to be one. Out here, it’s debatable whether the writing exerts any leverage on the fate of nations, but when it comes to the fate of individuals, no one, not even a writer, needs to be useless. Political prisoners are less vulnerable when they are kept in our view and known to be so. Write to the writers in prison. The committee has their addresses. firstname.lastname@example.org
© Tom Stoppard 39(4): 14/16 DOI: 10.1177/0306422010388577 www.indexoncensorship.org
Sir Tom Stoppard has been honorary vice president of English PEN since 1983. His plays include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Professional Foul and Rock n Roll, all published by Faber
16 POWER OF THE PEN
Carole Seymour-Jones celebrates the achievements of 50 years of fighting for authors’ freedoms and explains why there is so much more work to be done
The birch trees shiver in the wind. Cardiologist Galina Bandazhevskaya, wife of imprisoned medical scientist Professor Yury Bandazhevsky, beckons us to follow her into the clearing behind her office. Her room is bugged, so there is no point in talking inside. Instead, she upturns three logs, and we squat awkwardly under the trees, on the edge of the grey Minsk suburb.
‘How is Yury?’ I ask. ‘The government has offered him a deal. He can be freed, if ...’. She pauses. The fear is evident in her eyes as she pulls her beige jacket closer, and whispers, ‘Lukashenko has promised an amnesty and that Yury will be released if he withdraws what he has written about Chernobyl.’ She lifts her head defiantly. ‘My husband will never withdraw his books. We know that people are dying.’
Professor Bandazhevsky, rector of the Gomel State Medical Institute, had been arrested in July 1999 on a trumped-up charge of accepting bribes from his students. By then he was well known as the Chernobyl whistleblower. After the explosion of the nuclear reactor in 1986, the prize-winning scientist had left his post as director of the Central Laboratory for Scientific Research