My bit begins at around 16 minutes into the show, but that really shouldn’t stop you listening to Ed and his co-hosts Ninfa Hayes and A.L. Johnson chatting about tea and reviewing a whole lot of genre literature.
Vladimir Putin has this week signed into a law some measures to ban swearing in films, books and music. Films with obscene content will not be granted a distribution certificate and exisiting books and music with foul language will have to be sold in special wrapping.
I spoke to Alison Flood of the Guardian about the new law, and what it says about the state of Russian politics:
Writers’ group English PEN has already condemned the move. Robert Sharp, its head of campaigns, says: “Swear words exist in every language and are part of everyday speech. Russian artists will no longer be able reflect genuine, everyday speech. Instead, they will have to sacrifice authenticity in order to please a committee of censors. This new law sends the signal that law-makers want to sanitise and silence the voice of ordinary Russians.”
In recent years, Sharp adds, we have witnessed Russia’s slow slide into authoritarianism, with impunity for the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, the prosecution of Pussy Riot, and the ban on discussing homosexuality. “These things have all squeezed the space for free speech in Russia. The government claims it is ‘protecting and developing culture’, but the effect will be to ensure that culture becomes staid, uniform and boring.”
Today I was interviewed by Pete Woods for Good Cause TV. We discussed English PEN’s campaign to reverse the Ministry of Justice’s ridiculous restrictions on sending books into prisons. We discussed the ‘Catch-22′ aspects to the policy, and the idea that literature should be a human right.
The latest act of literary campaigning from English PEN is to publish Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison by Enoh Meyomesse.
Enoh has been an opposition activist in Cameroon for decades. In 2012 he stood in the presidential elections against authoritarian strong-man Paul Biya. Soon after he was arrested for apparently trying to organise a coup. The authorities later dropped that accusation, and instead manufactured trumped up charges of robbery. There were no witnesses to this alleged crime, yet he was convicted anyway. PEN International consider the conviction and imprisonment to be a violation of Enoh Meyomesse’s right to freedom of expression.
While in prison, Enoh was able to write and publish Poème Carcéral, a collection of poetry. We at PEN put a call out to our members for volunteer translators, and managed to get the book translated into English. This month I designed a cover graphic, and published the book as a print-on-demand paperback, available from Lulu.com. E-book versions (both ePub and Kindle) are also available for download.
I am particularly pleased that we were able to publish the book under a creative commons licence. Enoh Meyomesse is in prison and this publication is intended to give him a voice once more. The creative commons licence encourages further translation, remixing and performance of the poems, amplifying what once was censored.
Speaking first, my co-panellist Ian Dunt made a pertinent point about how the low financial barriers to free speech online are also the reason that online speech may be threatened. People do not need financial reserves in order to publish online – It is cheap and quick. However, this lack of money also means they are more vulnerable to being sued by those who do have money and power. The publishing divide is not between online/offline, but between those with lawyers, and those without.
I spoke about the recent prosecutions from remarks made on social media, and the fact that current laws include the word ‘offensive’ as a trigger for prosecution, which is open to abuse. I noted how the immediacy of social media messaging meant that immature political views follow you around long after they should have been discarded, but that Tweeting and Facebooking are forms of publishing and could never be cordoned off as some special type of speech that is subjected to different laws. Parents and teachers need to help the young ‘uns be savvier about what they choose to publish online. I finished by warning that we cannot take our free expression for granted when we use social media spaces that feel public, but are in fact owned by corporations with a profit motive to censor if it is in their financial interests to do so.
Dear Internet: please recommend an online service that can help me automatically distribute computer files via e-mail.
At English PEN, we have begun to produce e-Books as part of our literary campaigning. Our recent Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot is a good example of this – It puts more literature and creativity into the world, in response to an act of censorship.
In that project, the e-Book was available free with a voluntary donation. But we wanted to capture the e-mail addresses of everyone who downloaded it. I used a tweaked version of a WordPress contact form plug-in to ‘reveal’ the download links after a person entered their e-mail address, but this was an inelegant method. If downloaders wanted to revist the page, they had to enter their address again. And there was no validation of e-mail addresses.
Are there any online tools that manage the distribution of documents or computer files? I need a simple system that will take a person’s e-mail address, log it for me, and then either send them a unique download link, or simply e-mail them a file.
I imagine that the Shareware Developer community must have some kind of solution in place for this task? Can anyone recommend such services? Or is there a WordPress plug-in I have missed. Obviously I have a preference for free services, as the projects I run are all not-for-profit.
“This and other cases highlight the fact that Turkey has a free expression problem,” said English PEN spokesperson Robert Sharp. “When ill-advised laws are put in place, then those with an ideological agenda will seek to use them to censor words or writing they do not like. This is why we campaign against ‘insult laws’ all over the world – including the UK. Censorship does not begin with the state instantly imprisoning authors and burning books. It begins with individuals using bad laws as weapons against each other.”
I was commenting on the ridiculous news that the board members of PEN Turkey were hauled into the Istanbul Prosecutors Office, to be questioned as to whether they had “insulted Turkishness” by they called Turkey’s censorship laws ‘fascist’. Thought-crime, essentially. It is a huge irony that a complaint at ‘fascist developments’ should be met by the sinster act of summoning all the board members for questioning… an irony apparently lost on the authorities.
Last week, I published two e-Books for English PEN.
The first is Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, edited by Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer. This is a fantastic piece of literary campaigning for three prisoners of conscience. The government of Vladimir Putin, in collaboration with the Russian Orthodox church, have sought to censor the satire and criticism directed at them by the punk art collective Pussy Riot, by convicting three of them on a charge of ‘hooliganism’.
There is little English PEN or I can do to help with the legal battle. But what we can do is ensure that the feminist poetry and the dissident message is not suppressed. Catechism amplifies what Putin sought to silence.
The other project is PEN Atlas: 10 Literary Dispatches from Around the World. It has been published to coincide with the international translation day conference taking place today in London. It is a re-packaging off some of the best content from our PEN Atlas online project.
In creating these publications, I applied some of the lessons learned during the course of my Insignificant Woman project. I also advanced my knowledge a bit too.
I had been using the EPUB conversion cool within Lulu.com to create my e-book files. This tool is simple and easy to use (you just upload a Word Document) but is somewhat limited. For example, when you want to place two headings adjacent to each other in the text, it creates unnecessary page breaks. However, by good fortune I happened across the Sigil tool on the Google Project Hosting repository. It is not an entry-level program, but it is perfect for someone like me, who has basic knowledge of HTML and CSS. I used it to tweak an existing EPUB file for Catechism, but then used Sigil to create the PEN Atlas file entirely from scratch. Later, I used Calibre to convert and EPUB file into a Kindle ready eBook.