April 9, 2008 / 12:02 AM / 9 years ago

Protest poem "relay" tackles China on human rights

3 Min Read

<p>Soldiers patrol on a street in Lhasa, Tibet, March 23, 2008.Stringer</p>

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada will take part in a virtual demonstration against China's human rights policies on Wednesday via a poem "relay" organized by an international writers' association as tensions brew worldwide ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games.

A poem entitled "June," written by imprisoned Chinese poet and journalist Shi Tao, will arrive via the Internet in Toronto on Wednesday as part of a multi-continent tour by International PEN, which champions writers' freedom of expression.

The so-called poetry relay is intended to mimic the heavily protested Olympic Games torch relay.

"What we're trying to achieve with the PEN poem relay is a message of solidarity that writers of the world will stand united in freedom of expression," said Larry Siems, director of the Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN America Center in New York.

The virtual tour kicked off in Shi's hometown of Taiyuan City on March 25. The poem has since been translated into more than 60 languages as it travels to PEN centers around the world via the Web, where readers can track the poem and listen to its various translations.

"June" will be translated and performed by Cree artist William Merasty on Wednesday when it arrives at PEN Canada in Toronto.

While protests raged worldwide as the Olympic torch traveled through London and Paris, PEN's poetry relay is quietly gaining attention among a community of international writers, Siems told Reuters.

"These are Internet bloggers and writers who are trying to break down a firewall of censorship, and we hope writers of the world stand together on this cause," he said.

Shi is serving a 10-year prison sentence for revealing state secrets abroad after e-mailing notes from a government document that warned the Chinese media on the their reportage of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

He sent the notes via e-mail to a pro-democracy Web site in 2004, PEN's Web site said. "June" commemorates the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989, when a military crackdown on protesters saw hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians killed.

The PEN poem relay ends in Beijing prior to the opening of the 2008 Olympics on August 8.

To track the poem, visit: www.penpoemrelay.org

Editing by Rob Wilson

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