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Ashraf Fayadh and Malini Subramaniam win the 2017 Oxfam Novib/PEN Awards for Freedom of Expression

Friday 20 January 2017 - 10:36am

20 January 2017 - The Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression exists to honour the courage of writers committed to freedom of expression despite facing countless challenges and risks. Previous winners have included the Turkish-Armenian journalist and editor Hrant Dink, Mexican journalist and human rights activist Lydia Cacho and Syrian writer and journalist Samar Yazbek.

This year's recipients are The Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia and Indian journalists Malini Subramaniam who was recently forced to leave her home due to threats in connection to her work as an investigative journalist.

PEN International executive director Carles Torner said: ‘This award is not only our way of honouring courageous writers and journalists who continue to fight for freedom of expression at great personal risk, it is also a way of telling those who seek to silence them that the world is watching.’ 

This year Russian writer Mikhail Shishkin and PEN International President Jennifer Clement delivered the 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 awards and a discussion exploring freedom of expression issues in partnership with PEN Netherlands. The Oxfam Novib/PEN Awards will be presented by Oxfam Novib Executive Director Farah Karimi.

Farah Karimi said : 'Freedom of Expression is not taken for granted. Critical minds are indispensable in a just society. But in spite of this, writers, journalists and poets are in danger all over the world. With the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award we want to honour and encourage them.

PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, the PEN Emergency Fund and Oxfam Novib each year give the award to writers and journalists committed to free speech despite the danger to their own lives, and in recognitions of writers’ significant contribution to freedom of expression around the world.

Note to Editors:

Malini Subramaniam is an award-winning Indian investigative journalist and contributor to the independent news website scroll.in.  Until recently, Subramaniam was based in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, where she sought to shine a light on the plight of those living in a region rocked by insecurity and Maoist insurgency, reporting on the alleged torture of journalists, allegations of sexual violence committed by the security forces in Bijapur, and on alleged human trafficking, among other topics. In February 2016 after a vigilante group began protesting outside her home, calling for her death and attacking her home, Subramaniam was forced to flee her home after local authorities failed to defend her.

Initially arrested in August 2013, Palestinian-born poet and artist, Ashraf Fayadh, was accused of ‘misguided and misguiding thoughts’ following the submission of a complaint to the Saudi Arabian Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, he was rearrested on 1 January 2014 on charges including ‘insulting the divine self’. He has been held in a prison in the city of Abha ever since. During his initial trial – held over six hearings between February and May 2014 – Fayadh stood accused of numerous blasphemy-related charges, including ‘spreading atheism’ and ‘insulting the King and the Kingdom’. Evidence compiled against him included at least 10 pages from his collection of poetry Instructions Within, published by the Beirut-based Dar al-Farabi in 2008 and later banned from distribution in Saudi Arabia.

On 17 November 2015, the General Court of Abha sentenced Fayadh to death for the crime of being an infidel (kufr) following a re-trial.On 2 February 2016, a Saudi Arabian court replaced the death sentence with an eight-year prison term and 800 lashes. Fayadh has further appealed against this fresh conviction.