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"Murder is the most brutal form of censorship"
(On the execution of fellow playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria 10th November 1995)
Eroding the Language of Freedom

Article in Sanity, March 1989

We've assumed that we live in a free country for so long that it's very hard for us to subject that concept to any real or fundamental scrutiny. An entire range of encroachments on fundamental freedoms is taking place now in this country. It's quite a range, far-reaching and quite pernicious.
I believe that the root cause of this state of affairs is that for the last forty years out thought has been trapped in hollow structures of language, a stale, dead but immensely successful rhetoric. This has represented, in my view, a defeat of the intelligence and of the will. When the Czech police use the truncheons is Wenceslas Square, we describe that as an act of brutal repression consistent with the practices of a totalitarian regime. When the English police charge students on horseback on Westminster Bridge we describe this as a maintenance of law and order and are advised that it is a containment of essentially subversive forces. The Czechs use precisely the same language (as of course do the Turks, the Chileans, the South Africans, etc.): the demonstrations are against the state and must be crushed. Here, as there, I believe we must assess a governing power not by what it says it is, or by what it intends, but by what it does. It can all itself what it likes. In January 1986 a young woman protesting against nuclear weapons (they still do that, you know) had her finger torn off by a security guard as he yanked her from the barbed wire. This didn't happen in Czechoslovakia. It happened here. Does Mrs Thatcher know what she's doing when she exhorts the Polish authorities to allow free trade unions while at exactly the same time she is firing the last trade unions members here at GCHQ? Does she know what she's saying when she assures us that prime Minister Ozal of Turkey is a man in whom she has absolute trust with reference to his respect for human rights in that country (infintitely the worst human rights record in the whole of Europe)? I take it she does, because the British got the contract to build the third bridge over the Bosphorous.
Because language is discredited and because spirit and moral intelligence are fatally undermined, the government possesses carte blanche to do what it likes. Its officers can bug, break in, tap, burgle, lie, slander, bully and terrorize with impunity. Disclosure of these things will land the discloser in prison, while the government servant remains above the law, accountable neither to the citizens of this country nor to its representatives in Parliament. (The security services have of course always been above the law but this is now being given sanctity in law, so to speak).
The laws are brutal and cynical. None of them has to do with democratic aspirations. All of them have to do with intensification and consolidation of state power. Unless we face that reality fairly and squarely, this free country is in grave danger of being strangled to death.

Sanity, March 1989 - This piece can be found of page 202 of Various Voices

Mordechai Vanunu

As a member on the board of Trustees of The Vanunu Trust, set up by Meir Vanunu, Harold Pinter has campaigned for many years for the immediate release of Mordechai Vanunu.

There is to be a vigil this year on September 30th, outside the Israeli Embassy, Palace Green, London W8, to mark the anniversary of the day Vanunu was kidnapped. The vigil at the Embassy is now in its eighth year. For further information please call (+44 20)7378 9324 or email:

Above: Protesters wearing Mordechai Vanunu masks at the Israeli embassy yesterday as they called for his release. March 27th 1995
Photograph: Graham Turner
Mordechai Vanunu is now 45 years old and has been in captivity (much of it in solitary confinement) for 14 years. Vanunu was working as a technician in a plutonium producing facility in Israel, when he disclosed details of his country's nuclear weapons programme to the London "Sunday Times". As a result he was enticed to Rome, illegally detained and brought back to Israel, tried and sentenced to 18 years' solitary confinement.

These are public statements made by Harold Pinter on behalf of Mordechai Vanunu, in petitions to the Israeli President(s). He has been in correspondence at the highest level, with both the Israeli Ambassador in London, and the Ministry of Justice for the State of Israel. For the latest news of this case please go to the Campaign to Free Vanunu and for a Nuclear Free Middle East:

"Mordechai Vanunu is a man of immense courage and dignity. His sadistic treatment by the Israeli government is a disgrace, an outrage to what is left of civilised values in this world. Vanunu's action was a strictly moral action. His is the true voice of conscience calling for sanity in a very dark landscape. Our support for him must be constant and unwavering. He speaks for us."

Harold Pinter 2000, spoken in support of Vanunu at a conference held in Israel

Harold Pinter's toast to Mordechai at his 40th Birthday Party
We are here to celebrate not only Mordechai's birthday but also his spirit and his singular, independent, fearless mind. But we are also here to register our horror and disgust at the actions of the Israeli government. It seems to me that what Mordechai did was totally rational, was possessed of the utmost responsibility, both social and political, and stemmed from a truly passionate conviction. The response of the Israeli government, and, in fact of the world, was brutal, vindictive and sadistic. What we have on one side of the coin is a man of moral rigour and responsibility, and on the other, a brutal and indifferent force. Something happened to me this evening which hasn't happened for a long time. It's been a very moving evening indeed but I thought that the playing of Bach, which I hadn't expected - a piece I didn't in fact know was remarkable and expressed something which I normally wouldn't explore. I wouldn't normally explore an interpretation of music. Certainly Bach, when he wrote that piece, wasn't thinking about Mordechai Vanunu. But what he expressed to me tonight in this context was two things one was the loneliness of the human spirit and the other was our awareness of and correspondence to that loneliness. And I feel therefore that what we're doing now is saying to Mordechai: we really are with you, and we have absolutely no intention of deviating from this course - forever. I hope it will not be forever, so long as we're solid and true in ourselves. He must know that we are him, that we are part of him, that we are serving him, that we are always endeavouring to speak with him and that we will never leave him. Because he represents something that is quite unique but also deeply traditional. It goes back hundreds of years: that person who will insist upon speaking out and therefore has invariably been brutally suppressed. We must be that person too, in order to truly support him. So therefore I'm going to cut his cake for him, with a great deal of resistance in my spirit and a great deal of love. Thank you.
International PEN
International P.E.N., the worldwide association of writers, exists to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere, regardless of their political or other views; to fight for freedom of expression and to defend vigorously writers suffering from oppressive regimes. PEN is strictly non-political, a Non Governmental Organization with Category A status at UNESCO. It is composed of Centres, each of which represents its membership and not its country. Membership is open to all qualified writers, regardless of nationality, language, race, colour or religion, and every member is required to sign the P.E.N. Charter and by so doing to observe its conditions.   International PEN  

Harold Pinter is Vice-President of Pen-the English Centre of International Pen.

Harold Pinter visited Turkey in 1985 on behalf of International Pen, with Arthur Miller. For a personal account please click here: " Arthur Miller's socks"


Harold Pinter, watched by Ronald Harwood, reads form the poems of Jack Mapanje at a writer's protest at the Malawian High Commission yesterday. Mapanje is being held by security police in Malawi.

Picture: Frank Martin, the Guardian, 18th December 1987

Harold Pinter With Vaclav Havel
In June 1989, Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser visited Vaclav and Olga Havel in their farmhouse in Bohemia, overlooked by a 24-hour police guard. As late as 15th November that same year, the Czech authorities were still refusing to allow a stage performance of a Havel drama. Six weeks later, still without having a play performed on stage in his own country, Havel is chosen as President of Czechoslovakia. For a vivid account of their visits, in June and later in February the next year,
click here to go to "Harold and I and two visits to Vaclav", by Antonia Fraser
Two imprisoned writers, now free:
On the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991, the British government decided to round up and deport a number of Iraqi and Palestinian nationals, on the grounds that they constituted a security threat. Abbas Cheblak was amongst them, who was arrested on 17 January, was a lifelong campaigner for Arab rights, who had spoken out against Saddam Hussein. Pinter, along with Martin Amis, David Edgar and Ian McEwan, protested about his arrest in the letter transcribed below. By their swift action, they not only secured Cheblak's release but exposed the whole issue and helped to ensure that none of those arrested, many of whom were Iraqi dissidents, were tired or deported. As Michael Billington points out in his biography; "So much for the idea that protest is pointless or that writers have no business interfering in state affairs."
Click here


Click the above envelope to view the letter to The Independent 28 January 1991
Click here for Nato and the Gulf
Harold Pinter was amongst the first signatories on a petition, published in the daily broadsheets, to call for the release of Eduard Kuznetsov, who had served seven and a half years of a fifteen year sentence. Further details are given below.
Notes for a meeting of "The British Writers' Committee for the Release of Soviet Refusenik Authors and Journalists", June 15, 1978
Eduard Kuznetsov: Jewish Prisoner of Conscience
Date of Birth; 29th January, 1939
Place of Birth; Moscow
Occupation; Translator, Writer
Family Status; Married to Silva Zalmanson
Sentence; 15 years imprisonment (to June9 1985)
Charges; Attempted treason, Attempted mis approriation of State property, Anti- Soviet Propaganda, Anti-Soviet organisational activity.
Address of Prison Camp. USSR, Moscow, UCHR. 5110/1 ZH.H.
During the period of the post-Stalin literary thaw, Kuznetsov, by then a follower of the democratic movement, participated in a public reading of Mayakovsky's poems, which took place in Mayakovsky Square. This event, among other accusations, led to his subsequent arrest. The prime accusation against him was that he had been editor of the Phoenix Magazine, one of the "Samizdat" underground publications. Kuznetsov's studies were interrupted by his arrest, conviction, and sentence to seven year's imprisonment. At first he was in a camp in Moravia, but there he refused to co-operate. For this refusal, he was given the punishment of spending half of his term in the notorious Vladimir Prison.
Secretly and ingeniously hidden from prison and camp guards, Kuznetsov wrote his "Prison Diaries" which describe the proceedgins of the Leningrad trial and prison conditions. This book was smuggled out of the USSR, published and translated into many languages. "Prison Diaries" was awarded the Gallimar Prize of France.
The Police Bill
Click here


Click the above envelope to view the letter to the Times, 8th January 1997
Michael Howard's letter in reply effectively confirmed the above as a possible sequence.
The Colonels
Click here


Click the above envelope to view the letter to Ionna Karatzaferi
In 1968 on the accession of the new military regime in Greece, a production of The Homecoming playing in Athens was closed. Here is a letter Harold Pinter wrote to a Greek theatre producer at the time.
Hull Speech

Francis Gillen and Steven Gale write of Pinter's interest in "The cultural masking of atrocity in banality". (preface to The Pinter Review 1999/2000.) Pinter addresses this in his speech to The University of Hull, on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree in 1996

Address to Hull University Congregation H. Pinter July 11 1996

My Lord and Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank the University very much indeed for the honours it has conferred today upon my wife, Antonia Fraser, and myself. We are absolutely delighted to receive these on the same platform at the same time. I also extend my warm congratulations to those who have graduated today. Perhaps it is to them to whom, in the main, my remarks are addressed.

We live within what seems to me to be a distinct and palpable discrepancy. We are glad to be alive today and look forward to being alive tomorrow. At the same time we draw closer and closer to death, by which I mean the destruction of the natural world and the end of civilisation; in effect, the end of the world. The destructive force we have created is both systematic and random, since, while its targets are specific, its effects will be unbounded. The term "the end of the world" is perhaps a clichˇ, but I suggest there's nothing banal about the facts to which it refers. What strikes me as truly remarkable is that we live in the shadow of utter catastrophe and manage not to think about it.

In 1985 Arthur Miller and I visited Turkey on behalf of International P.E.N. WE met writers, artists, academics. Many of these people had spent some time in military prisons and had been tortured. They had been imprisoned for their ideas; they had committed no concrete act against the State. We met people whose lives had been ruined, both those who had been tortured and their families. Arthur Miller and I were invited to the American Embassy to meet the Ambassador. We discussed American support for he military regime in Turkey and conditions in military prisons. The Ambassador said to me: Mr Pinter, I don't think you understand the realities of the situation here. You have to take into account the strategic reality, the military reality, the political reality. The reality to which I am referring, I replied, is that of the electric current attached to your genitals. Sir, he said you are a guest in my house and turned on his heel. He had found mentions of that reality offensive. Indeed so might you, since I am a guest in your house Š but that is my point. We take refuge in finding offence in "strong language" when it is the reality which is obnoxious, brutal and disgusting.

The "diplomatic" language the Ambassador was employing has been used to justify the gulags in Russia and the torture chambers in El Salvador, Chile, Guatemala etc - which last regimes are supported by the United States. I remind you of that simply because the USA is the head of the democratic world, and considers itself to be the defender of Christian civilisation.

Some have declared nuclear war to be unimaginable. I don't think so. I suggest it requires only a moment's silence, a moment's thought, to imagine it quite clearly, quite vividly. We cower behind the fact that we have language to describe it, limply assume it won' t happen. The contrary is true. It may not happen only if we have the courage to find a language to describe it. At all events, it seems to me that we have a most serious obligation to think precisely and to insist, therefore, upon accurate descriptions of actual facts.

We cannot allow others to do our thinking for us. If we continued to submit to political rhetoric and political abstractions we are doomed.


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