From Human Rights Watch
41 Facing Persecution Win Hellman/Hammett Grants
(New York) – Forty-one writers from 19 countries have received 2012 Hellman/Hammett grants for their commitment to free expression and their courage in the face of persecution.The award-winners have faced persecution for their work, generally by government authorities seeking to prevent them from publishing information and opinions. Those honored include journalists, bloggers, essayists, novelists, poets, and playwrights. They also represent numerous other writers worldwide whose personal and professional lives are disrupted by repressive policies to control speech and publications.
“The Hellman/Hammett grants help writers who have suffered because they published information or expressed ideas that criticize or offend people in power,” said Lawrence Moss, coordinator of the Hellman/Hammett grant program at Human Rights Watch. “Many of the writers honored by these grants share a common purpose with Human Rights Watch: to protect the rights of vulnerable people by shining a light on abuses and building pressure for change.”
Governments have used arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated criminal charges, and overly broad libel and sedition laws to try to silence this year’s Hellman/Hammett awardees. They have been harassed, threatened, assaulted, indicted, jailed on trumped-up charges, or tortured for peacefully expressing their views or informing the public. When abusive governments target writers, it intimidates others to practice self-censorship.
Free expression is a central human right, enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” On July 21, 2011, the Human Rights Committee, the expert body established under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reiterated the central importance of freedom of opinion and expression, stating that these freedoms “are indispensable conditions for the full development of the person. They are essential for any society. They constitute the foundation stone for every free and democratic society.”
The Hellman/Hammett grants are given annually to writers around the world who have been targets of political persecution or human rights abuses. A distinguished selection committee awards the cash grants to honor and assist writers whose work and activities have been suppressed by repressive government policies.
The grants are named for the American playwright Lillian Hellman and her longtime companion, the novelist Dashiell Hammett. Both were both questioned by US congressional committees about their political beliefs and affiliations during the aggressive anti-communist investigations inspired by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Hellman suffered professionally and had trouble finding work. Hammett spent time in prison.
In 1989, the trustees appointed in Hellman’s will asked Human Rights Watch to devise a program to help writers who were targeted for expressing views that their governments oppose, for criticizing government officials or actions, or for writing about subjects that their governments did not want reported.
Over the past 23 years, more than 750 writers from 92 countries have received Hellman/Hammett grants of up to US$10,000 each, totaling more than $3 million. The program also gives small emergency grants to writers who have an urgent need to leave their country or who need immediate medical treatment after serving prison terms or enduring torture.
Of the 41 winners this year, six remain anonymous to prevent further persecution. A list and brief biographies of the award-winners, including just the countries of the anonymous grantees, is below.
A concentration of grantees in certain countries points to especially severe repression of free expression by those governments. Twelve of this year’s grantees come from the People’s Republic of China; four of them are Tibetan and remain anonymous for security reasons. Five grantees are from Vietnam, four from Ethiopia, and three from Iran.
“The compelling stories of the Hellman/Hammett winners illustrate the danger to journalists and writers around the world,” Moss said.
2012 Hellman/Hammett Awardees (Full list at http://www.hrw.org/node/112138 )
Dominikus Sorabut (Indonesia/Papua)
Dominikus Sorabut is a Papuan activist who also produced a number of film documentaries on issues such as deforestation, illegal mining, and Indonesian government efforts to eradicate Melanesian Papuan cultures. In 2010, he interviewed a Papuan farmer who was tortured by Indonesian soldiers, helping to provide international exposure of torture and suffering of the farmers. Sorabut has written several op-ed articles and a number of book manuscripts on the Papuan people. While attending a peaceful demonstration for Papuan independence in October 2011, Sorabut was arrested when Indonesian police and soldiers fired into the crowd and detained more than 300 protesters. Sorabut was convicted of treason along with four other Papuan figures and sentenced to three years in prison. He is in the Abepura prison in Jayapura, Papua.
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