I am a member of English PEN and I am committed to write this blog. Thanks for being a part of my life. So here goes. Shortly after Galle Literary Festival announced my attendance I received a message on behalf of Gillian Slovo who is the president of English PEN. “Authors who travel to the Galle festival have found that a round-table event hosted by PEN is a useful preparation for the trip….” It said “…there are serious free speech issues in Sri Lanka, in particular relating to the government’s treatment of the Tamil minority. The fear and persecution experienced by many journalists who write on this issue is something that PEN firmly opposes”. Due to work commitments I couldn’t attend but I was sent an up-to-date and balanced briefing. After consideration I decided to go. On arrival in Sri Lanka I met one of the writers who was at the PEN meeting. She told me of another who had decided to boycott Galle citing that it was impossible to facilitate a writers workshop if the attendants were fearful of punishment for what they may write.
I’ll share with you my experience of the festival in the next blog. On the last day I bought The Sunday Times (Sri Lankan) . Tucked away on page sixteen is an article about a short comedic school play. The headline reads “Principal interdicted for allowing mimicking of president in school stage play”. The article reads “Mimicking President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a school play has cost the school principal his job. However, the Principal E.K.Premasiri said yesterday it was he who had first informed police of such a play and wanted them to investigate”. The Tamil Guardian has a slightly different take on the story that can be read either of two ways. It says “Sadly, when you’ve upset one of the king’s henchmen or been party to such sacrilege against Rajapaksa, no good deed goes unpunished.” Maybe they fear the children could catch the conscience of the king. Freedom of expression is not measured by how loud or how grandly a government declares its principles of freedom but on who is silenced.