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World Press Freedom Day – PEN Melbourne and RMIT

May 03, 2024 IN WIP
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Congratulations to all the RMIT students who worked hard on their event for this World Press Freedom Day, Friday 3rd of May, at the RMIT Alumni Courtyard, Old Melbourne Gaol!

Three speeches given by students in the form of letters are included below. They are by:

Conor Misson, who writes to Julian Assange and asks the question ‘How much does truth cost?’

Maddox Gifford who writes to Mahvash Sabet a heartfelt letter about cruelty and hope.

Alex Allingham-MacLaren who writes to Selahattin Demirtas, whose example reminds him to speak freely and honestly about the time he lives in.

PEN Letter to Julian Assange – Conor Misson

 

Dear Julian,

 

How much does the truth cost?

I don’t ask you expecting an answer, I’m existentially asking the world in order to test if it really is confused.

Truth is a crime if the truth is violent and decidedly covert. Bring it to light and more violence will be done unto you. These seem to be the lessons of your penalty.

A chain of distrust, or a genealogy of distrust; is human nature supposed to be built on the instincts to dominate and cower? I also ask that existentially.

Over a decade under the microscope – how long do governments expect it takes our bodies to digest lies? Is this too many questions? I will attempt to refrain from many more.

What hope do we – Stop.

I feel – better – that hope is squandered when access to information is treated with such ferocity by the bodies that dictate the violence of our history. Lost trust in our past breeds hopelessness and aimlessness in the present that lays us at the mercy of a future we dare not imagine.

I’m speaking in codes, or metaphors, or gibberish.

I sense it is fear? Fear of honesty, fear of truth, fear of the confusion I feel in my chest, in my heart, in our governments. I hope you are not consigned to becoming an allegory that means vastly different things for those weighing down opposing ends of the political see-saw. I hope that this is history – real history – with a real ending that can give us clarity, and a way forward, an honest way forward, a hopeful way forward, an enlightened way forward, but I fear the commitment to your silencing, to the tarnishing of your right – our right – has gathered too large a force. That the strength of the tide against you is too heavy.

Still, I hope not.

I have been raised to understand the truth as an irrefutable thing, where the toll is simply our reckoning with it. Funny to consider. There should only be one definition. If the world is taught to understand that there is a horrible cost to some truths then we may never know a singular definition for truth again. We may adapt a primal instinct that halts us on the path to righteousness and warns us ‘honesty has a price’.

I honestly am scared.

How much does the truth cost? 175 years. Free Julian Assange.

 

Dear Mahvash Sabet,

Thinking of you, from half a world away.

I am a young person from the continent known as Australia. I have been alive for 25 years now, and only for the last 10 have I been truly aware of how cruel the world around me can be—both within this country’s borders, and beyond.

I do not need to explain this to you, nor to your daughter Negar, living now with her own daughter in Sydney, not far from where I am writing this in Melbourne; I can only imagine how she must miss you, how full of fearful love her heart must be to think of you. It hurts my own heart, to think of a grandmother, leader, and teacher like you, locked away in a cold cell.

I have always loved and respected my teachers. I yearned to learn more about the world, about life, and there seemed to me no greater repositories of wisdom—except maybe for my father, a world-weary man who worked as a fishmonger, but who always had poetry in him.

It pains me to know that you have been kept from your teaching for so long, since even before arrest and incarceration. But it gladdens my heart to read of how poetry has served you in prison—first as a means to reach out to family, but then as a way to process all that pain and alienation for yourself. To transform it. And, perhaps, to find some beauty in the small world still left to you inside those walls?

I came to poetry quite early, myself, and to activism later on. Often I have found that the more aware I become of atrocities occurring around the world, the more misery I witness in those around me, the harder it is to write. It feels as though that well of compassion and curiosity, from which all good writing draws, is running dry. How it is that, from your jail cell, you have been able to dredge up new depths of humanity from this reservoir, I have no idea. I am in awe of it.

I see suffering around me—but I also see joy. Is there joy, where you are? Little moments snatched from the jaws of despair, every day? I think that there must be, or else how would you survive?

I wonder if that is what poetry is. Small moments of something pure, be it joy or pain or love—little threads, painstakingly pulled from the misery of mundanity, woven into words with meaning.

Never lose meaning. Never lose heart. Never lose hope that you will be free once more, as you have been before.

Wishing you well,

Maddox

Dear Selahattin,

 

I am writing to you from Melbourne, Australia, where I am a student, husband and father. It is Autumn here – the weather is slowly turning cold. The year unfurls. I try to imagine how it is to be kept out of the weather as you are, to be kept out of time. I know you have found yourself as a writer – maybe you can imagine yourself into the world that way.

 

I wrote to tell you that when I read your words or imagine you writing at your desk I am brought back to myself – reminded of perseverance, tenacity and courage, recalled to truth. I am reminded to speak freely and honestly about the time I live in and the turning seasons.

 

As time unwinds for us all, I hope you can see your place in it from where you are – inestimable, vital, honoured and known.

 

With respect and care,

 

Alex

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International