It is exhilarating news indeed to learn of the coming release of Lee Tae Bok, a South Korean publisher, who has been a prisoner of that government since 1982. Bok had been adopted by our own Los Angeles PEN Center to help secure his freedom. We are justly proud that once more the voices of free writers of the outside world have succeeded in influencing the fate of writers and thinkers under repressive regimes.
But a word of caution is in order even in this moment of victory. I read the recent account of the 52nd Congress of the International PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) held in Seoul, Korea, as recorded by Digby Diehl in these pages (Book Review, Sept. 11). I, too, served as a member of the Los Angeles delegation. For the record, I feel it necessary to clarify some of the details of that event.
Diehl was absolutely correct in his description of controversy and divided opinion within the PEN organization in Seoul. However, what caused that situation wasn't made specific. It was not, as Diehl reports, that the American PEN Center (New York) held a party inviting the families of imprisoned writers (all centers including our own had been invited); rather it was that these American sponsors acted unilaterally in their decision to hold a press conference at their reception, despite urgent requests from the international board to delay such sessions until the congress had completed its investigation and deliberations.
This act was in violation of International PEN practice. In the several congresses I have attended over the years, both as delegate from Los Angeles and as observer, I have never seen press admitted before the PEN's Writers in Prison Committee has convened, that is, before every case of injustice to writers in every country in the world is reviewed in detail.
Most especially, the press is restricted until after the assembly of delegates has met to consider by consensus the very best method of action the group can take to free prisoners of conscience.
The International PEN, as Diehl explains, is an organization of writers devoted to upholding freedom of expression in all circumstances and in every country. The effectiveness of our organization over the years in dealing even with the most repressive regimes has been remarkable. Above all, however, our strength has come from unity following democratic consensus.
The recent break with that policy on the part of our American colleagues resulted in the divisiveness and could have weakened PEN's influence over world opinion. Since there remain hundreds of writers in prison in countries throughout the world, the future work of International PEN becomes more essential than ever. Thus the vital need for all writers to act together under PEN's long-established practices.
JULIA BRAUN KESSLER
PEN CENTER, USA WEST
DEFENDING TOM CLANCY