international PEN poem relay

Logo of the PEN Poem RelayAnne Summers has drawn my attention to: “a peaceful, and poetic, alternative to the protests that have accompanied the Olympic torch relay, which is today in Canberra.

If you go to the website you will see the PEN poem relay, a web-based campaign calling for Free Expression in China.

A short poem, “June” by an imprisoned Chinese journalist, Shi Tao, has been translated into more than 90 of the world’s languages and since March 25 has been virtually travelling the globe following the route of the Olympic Torch. Writers all over the world, some of them former political prisoners themselves, have translated and recorded “June”.

“June” is a chilling meditation on the 1989 June 4 military crackdown in Beijing, which ended the Tiananmen Square protests. These remain censored topics in China. Shi Tao is serving a 10-year prison sentence on the charge of “revealing state secrets abroad”. An editor at Contemporary Business News and a freelance journalist, he was convicted for sending an email to an overseas pro-democracy website using a Yahoo! email account. Yahoo! provided the Chinese authorities with his identity. His case has been taken up by PEN, the international writers organisation.

The PEN Poem Relay has become a powerful message of solidarity with the 38 writers and journalists imprisoned in China for their writing. These writers include Han Chinese and Uyghurs as well as Tibetans, so the poem relay is a broader protest than the pro-Tibet message of most of the protestors at the torch relay.

So far the poem has been to 70 locations throughout Europe, the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and South-east Asia. The poem has been translated to major languages, such as English, French, German and Russian, but also to Basque, Tamazight, Krio, Swahili, Cree, Afar, etc.

Go to and read, as well as listen to these translations and many others.

Today the poem is published in a number of Australian indigenous languages: Darug, Adnyamathanha, Ngarrindjeri, and Arrernte.”

What a cool idea, so powerful.

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