2016 Recipients of the Oxfam Novib/ PEN Awards for Freedom of Expression Announced
14 December 2016
For the last 15 years PEN International, PEN Emergency Fund and Oxfam Novib have honoured the courage of remarkable writers from across the globe with the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression. The award is given in honour of writers who have fought courageously for freedom of expression in the face of great adversity and despite the risk to their own lives.
This year the award recognises the bravery of , Eritrean poet, journalist and editor-in-chief Amanuel Asrat, Turkish writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker Can Dündar, and Egyptian writer and librarian Omar Hazek; three writers and journalists committed to freedom of speech despite the danger to their own lives.
Chinese-born British Jung Chang and PEN International President Jennifer Clement will deliver keynote speeches at PEN’s Free the Word! event at the opening night of Writers Unlimited Winter Nights at The Hague followed by the presentation of the award.
‘This award honours the courage, the commitment and the sacrifices these writers have made for freedom of expression. With this award we declare to these writers – and to those who persecute them – that their voices are heard, that they are never forgotten.’ Jennifer Clement, PEN International President.
PEN International will also participate in a worldwide reading in support of Ashraf Fayadh organised by the International Literature Festival Berlin. International President Jennifer Clement will read Fayadh’s poems at the opening night of the Writers Unlimited Festival to raise and maintain awareness of Fayadh’s case. Ashraf Fayadh is a 35-year-old Palestinian-born poet, artist and curator who lives in Saudi Arabia and has been a key figure in taking Saudi contemporary art to a global audience through his work with the British-Saudi art organisation Edge of Arabia and as a curator for Venice Biennale. On 17 November 2015, Ashraf Fayadh was charged with apostasy and sentenced to death. PEN petition calling for his freedom has seen over 1000 poets and writers from around the world sign including Adonis, Paul Muldoon and Carol Ann Duffy.
Amanuel Asrat, an award-winning Eritrean poet, critic and editor-in-chief of the leading newspaper ዘመን (Zemen – The Times), was arrested at his home on the morning of 23 September 2001 amid a crackdown on state and private media. Fourteen years later, the situation of Asrat and the other prisoners is still unclear. It is unknown whether charges have been brought against them and even if any trial has taken place. There are severe health concerns as the detainees are believed to have been subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, including lack of access to medical care, as highlighted by the reported deaths of four journalists in custody. Asrat is believed to be among the few surviving journalists, detained in the maximum security prison, Eiraeiro, north of Asmara.
Can Dündar is a writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker who has become one of Turkey’s most prominent voices in a career spanning more than three decades. Dündar was arrested on 26 November 2015 alongside fellow journalist Erdem Gül and charged with ‘espionage’ and other national security offences. The complaint against them was lodged by President Erdoğan in connection with a video published by Cumhuriyet in May 2015 which allegedly showed state intelligence agents helping to transfer weapons to Syria. Dündar is also on trial for alleged defamation against President Erdoğan and faces a further possible trial.
Omar Hazek is a writer of international acclaim and was formerly employed by the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. After the overthrow of President Mubarak in February 2011, Hazek was outspoken in his allegations of corruption related to the library. He was arrested on 4 December 2013 along with a number of other activists for ‘protesting without permission’ in front of the Alexandria Criminal Court in solidarity with the family of Khalid Said – beaten to death in police custody in 2010 – during a re-trial of his alleged killers. Hazek continued the fight for freedom of expression from prison, with public letters featuring writing such as ‘“Ah, here comes the sun, drawing near to the cells […] I’m optimistic that young men and women like you all will not allow tyrants and oppressors to wound the heart of this nation.” Hazek was one of 100 prisoners released from custody by President Sisi in September 2015 in a royal pardon.
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