Four Arab Writers Honored for Commitment to Free Expression

Dr. Abdul Jalil Al-Singace (Bahrain)

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. Among them 4 Arabs

{jcomments on}The 2012 Arab Hellman/Hammett Awardees Winners are:

Abdelgadir Mohammed Abdelgadir (Sudan)

Abdelgadir is a journalist and advocate for media freedom and human rights in Sudan, where government authorities consistently harass and censor the media. Abdelgadir’s articles have been censored on numerous occasions. He has been arrested three times for reporting on human rights issues, though never charged with a crime. Abdelgadir’s book on media freedom in Sudan, released this year, is banned from publication inside the country.

Dr. Abdul Jalil Al-Singace (Bahrain)

Dr. Abdul al-Singace is a prolific writer, blogger, and head of the human rights office of the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy, an opposition party in Bahrain. He was an engineering professor at the University of Bahrain until dismissed after his prosecution in 2010. He was arrested in August of that year at Bahrain International Airport on charges of inciting violence and terrorism, on his return from a conference in the UK House of Lords, where he criticized human rights violations in Bahrain. He was held incommunicado in solitary confinement for six months and reportedly mistreated. A month after his release in February 2011, he was arrested again in connection with his speeches and writings during pro-democracy protests, and sentenced to life in prison.

Mohamad Al Ahmad Al-Ali (Syria)

Mohamad al-Ali is a Syrian journalist who has written for domestic and international online publications. He initially covered business and economic issues, but has focused on political issues since 2008. As a freelance journalist in 2011, he reported extensively on the Syrian protest movement that began in March 2011 for various online outlets. Al-Ali and other journalists covering the protests began to receive threats from Syrian authorities and following the arrest of some journalists al-Ali fled to Lebanon, where he relayed information he received to news websites. On May 20, 2011, Lebanese security forces detained him for a few hours and interrogated him about his activities in Lebanon. Al-Ali reported being beaten. Upon his release, he fled to Istanbul, Turkey.

Dr. Ahmed Mansoor (United Arab Emirates)

Ahmed Mansoor (United Arab Emirates)

A writer, poet, blogger, and human rights activist, Ahmed Mansoor has been a voice for political reform and respect for human rights in the United Arab Emirates for many years.

His blog, Muwatan Emiriati Maghloub `Ala Amrih(Helpless Emirati Citizen), has been a credible source for many human rights organizations, covering critical issues such as the UAE’s draft media law, freedom of expression and arbitrary detention, as well as topics especially controversial within the UAE context such as the rights of stateless citizens (Bidoons), state corruption, and political reform. He cofounded the Emirati online political forum UAE Hewar, blocked by Emirati authorities since February 2010. Mansoor also published a book of Arabic poetry in 2007, and has published numerous intellectual articles, short stories, and poems in Arabic-language periodicals.

Mansoor has initiated several citizen petitions to high UAE officials. His last petition, published on March 9, 2011, called for constitutional changes in the Emirates and free elections for all citizens, precipitating a campaign of online harassment and intimidation, and eventually Mansoor’s arrest on April 8, 2011. Accused of offenses including “instigation, breaking laws and perpetrating acts that pose threat to state security,” “undermining the public order,” “opposing the government system,” “insulting the President, the Vice President and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi,” “inciting others to break the law,” “calling for an election boycott,” and “calling for demonstrations,” he was held for eight months in detention without bail.

The UAE’s Federal Supreme Court sentenced Mansoor to three years in prison on November 27, 2011 and although the UAE president commuted his sentence on November 28, his conviction still stands. In September 2012, he was assaulted twice on the street by people with apparent knowledge of his movements. The government continues to withhold his passport, which kept him from appearing at a side event at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, although he spoke by video conference.

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 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. 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. 

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