HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

Short Biographies of 2005 Hellman/Hammett Award Winners

(New York, July 19, 2005) - In the 15 previous years of the Hellman/Hammett grant program, more than 500 writers received grants totaling more than $2.5 million. The Hellman/Hammett program also makes small emergency grants throughout the year to writers who have an urgent need to leave their country or who need immediate medical treatment after serving prison terms or enduring torture.

Saleem Samad (Bangladesh), journalist, was first targeted in the early 1980s while reporting on the counterinsurgency for The New Nation, a local English language daily. One night in March 1981, he was picked up, held in a small cell for five days, blindfolded, handcuffed, and tortured during interrogation. After his release, he continued covering political events which prompted threatening phone calls asking him to disclose his sources. He always refused and the harassment ended as the insurgency ebbed. Mr. Samad’s troubles resumed 20 years later in November 2002, after he set up interviews and did translation for a television crew from Britain’s Channel 4. He was accused of sedition and conspiracy to defame Bangladesh, questioned, tortured and threatened with death when he refused to sign a confession. After 55 days, the High Court cancelled the sedition charges and he was released. Later the Court issued an order “not to arrest” allowing him to travel. In October 2004, he went to Canada to attend an International Summit on Children, Poverty and Violence. After the meetings, he visited Bangladeshi exile communities in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, speaking about the appalling state of religious freedom in Bangladesh since the Islamic Nationalist government came to power. Reports of his talks in Toronto-based Bengali-language weeklies rekindled Bangladeshi government concern. As he prepared to return to Dhaka, friends warned that his home phone was tapped and urged him to stay. After checking with Time magazine colleagues in New Delhi and Hong Kong, Mr. Samad spoke to a lawyer who advised him to go to Ottawa and apply for refugee protection. More information about human rights conditions in Bangladesh.  
 
Kum Margaret (Cameroon), freelance journalist, who covers events and issues of concern to women, was arrested and held for one week in August 2004 because she wrote an article about the poor treatment of women at the Cameroon Tea Estate (CTE). She was indicted, charged with blackmailing CTE management, received a six-month suspended sentence, fined 1,500,000 FCFA (U.S.$2,732), and banned from publishing. More information about human rights conditions in Cameroon.  
 
Bao Zunxin (China) was editor-in-chief of several journals that were influential in Chinese intellectual circles. Since the publications were influential among young people and university students and because Mr. Bao openly supported the 1989 student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government arrested him and charged him with being a major instigator, or “black hand,” behind the demonstrations. He was sentenced to five years in prison, released in 1992 for health reasons, and has remained unemployed. His books are still banned in China. More information about human rights conditions in China.  
 
Guo Qinghai (China), pen name Qing Song, published political and economic essays in Hong Kong and the overseas Chinese-language media, mostly in publications that circulated on the Internet. He was arrested in September 2000 and charged with subversion of state power. The articles he wrote were used as evidence against him. He was convicted by the Intermediate People’s Court of Cangzhou City and sentenced to four years in prison and three years deprivation of political rights. In prison he was mistreated and contracted a partial paralysis. Released from prison in September 2004, he is serving the deprivation of political rights sentence at home. He resumed writing, has received police warnings, and is at risk of more political persecution. More information about human rights conditions in China.  
 
Yu Shicun (China), poet, essayist, and teacher, also worked as an editor at several political and cultural magazines, but was dismissed as a result of his independent political views. In 2002, he founded Beijing’s Contemporary Chinese Language Institute and the following year joined the Independent Chinese PEN Center and was named editor of its proposed literary journal. The Chinese police have visited his home and threatened to stop him from working for the ICPC. More information about human rights conditions in China.  
 
Hollman Morris (Colombia), investigative journalist, was the founder and editor of the Peace and Human Rights section of the newspaper El Espectador. He wrote numerous articles on the Colombian conflict including pieces on Colombia’s “disappeared,” the atrocities committed by the left-wing guerrillas of the revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and impunity for human rights abusers. He started receiving threats of kidnapping, torture and “disappearance” in the 1990s and fled to Spain. Since his return to Colombia in 2003, Mr. Morris has been directing the television journal Contravia, covering some of the most important human rights cases in Colombia. In 2004, Morris’s meticulous and thorough investigation of the assassination of fellow journalist Jaime Garzón brought to light evidence that had been ignored in the criminal investigation of the case, and was later cited by the judge in rendering the final verdict. Morris was also the first TV journalist to provide in depth coverage of the recent massacre in the peace community of San Jose de Apartado. Colombia is a dangerous place for independent journalists. Almost from the first day of his return, Morris was receiving threats, apparently from right-wing paramilitary groups. In December 2004, after he filed a complaint against military officers who had detained him while he was researching a report, Morris was told that a military intelligence officer had suggested he was a member of the FARC, which is tantamount to a death sentence in Colombia. The apparent involvement of military intelligence makes Morris’ situation even more dangerous. More information about human rights conditions in Colombia.  
 
Tewodros Kassa (Ethiopia), the former editor-in-chief of the Amharic-language weekly Ethiop, served two years and three months in prison after being convicted of defamation of a dead businessman who Kassa reported might have been killed by security forces because he was suspected of being a member of an outlawed group. Mr. Kassa was also convicted of “disseminating false information” that could “incite political violence” in two articles he published reporting about political infiltration in the military and an unsuccessful bomb plot. These convictions fit the pattern of harassment that Ethiopian authorities use to muzzle the independent press and suppress dissent. More information about human rights conditions in Ethiopia.  
 
Pierre Elisem (Haiti), a radio journalist who also wrote articles for the Cap Express newspaper, survived an assassination attempt in February 2004. The office of his radio station, Radio Hispaniola Internationale, was torched and is now closed. Mr. Elisem had been receiving threats for several days prior to the attack as a result of airing a listener call-in show that pro-government forces thought was biased in favor of the opposition. Thugs forced their way into his car and shot him in the neck and the stomach. He awoke in Cap Haitien hospital as a quadriplegic. Learning he was not dead, his assailants went to the hospital presumably to finish him off. But the hospital staff hid him in the maternity ward. Then with help from the Committee to Protect Journalists, he was flown to a hospital in the Dominican Republic for medical care and rehabilitation treatment. In July 2004, friends warned Mr. Elisem that the men who had shot him were planning to go to Santo Domingo to finish the job. Having regained the ability to walk with a cane, he fled to Miami. More information about human rights conditions in Haiti.  
 
Assurbanipal Babilla (Iran), painter and playwright, was one of three resident directors with the Drama Workshop of Tehran from 1973 to 1978. He fled to the United States in 1979 after the Iranian revolution because as a member of the Assyrian minority group he felt vulnerable. Both his plays and his paintings dealt with controversial material. This put him doubly at risk from the new conservative Islamic government. Mr. Babilla currently works part-time in a coffee shop and lives in a church shelter for homeless people. More information about human rights conditions in Iran.  
 
Ali-Reza Jabari (Iran) is an academic editor, a poet, and a social historian. He has translated many books on academic engineering and works of fiction by Leo Tolstoy, Isabel Allende, and Toni Morrison. He was convicted of ‘consuming and distributing alcoholic beverages, adultery, and incitement to immoral acts’ and sentenced to four years in prison, 254 lashes, and a 6 million Rial fine (US$1,115), even though he was 60 years old. It is thought the charges brought were spurious, that he was punished for giving an interview to the Canadian-based Persian newspaper Shahrvand and for membership in the Iranian Writers Organization. On appeal, the prison term was reduced to three years. Mr. Jabari was released from prison on October 14, 2004. More information about human rights conditions in Iran.  
 
Omid Memarian (Iran), journalist, wrote about political and social issues for pro-reform newspapers. After most papers were closed by 2004, Mr. Memarian continued writing on his web-log. During an October 2004 crackdown by the judiciary aimed at silencing Internet journalists and bloggers, he was arrested, held in solitary confinement, and tortured. Upon his release in December 2004, he campaigned actively against arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of detainees by the authorities. More information about human rights conditions in Iran.  
 
Sina Mottalebi (Iran), journalist and Internet writer, was arrested in 2003 during the first wave of the government crackdown on bloggers. Following his release, he fled to the Netherlands. In the summer of 2004, he wrote a detailed exposé of the judiciary’s detention and interrogation techniques. The Iranian authorities tried to silence him by arresting his father in Tehran. More information about human rights conditions in Iran.  
 
Taqi Rahmani (Iran), author of 26 books and monograms, wrote on the religious and political history of Iran, criticizing the relationship between religion and politics and its adverse effect on democratic development. Since 1981, he has spent 16 years in prison because of his writings. In 2002, he was arrested and charged with “propaganda against the regime,” “insulting Islamic leaders,” and “cooperation with counterrevolutionaries.” He is currently in prison. More information about human rights conditions in Iran.  
 
Ali Lmrabet (Morocco), journalist and editor of two weekly newspapers, was convicted of “insulting the person of the King,” committing an “offence against territorial integrity” and an “offence against the monarchy” because he published an interview with an opponent of the monarchy and satirical articles and cartoons about the monarchy and the annual allowance that the royal family receives from the Moroccan Parliament. In May 2003, Mr. Lmrabet was sentenced to three years in prison. He was also fined 20,000 dirham (US$2,300), and both newspapers were banned. In January 2004, he was released by royal pardon. In April 2005, a Moroccan court banned Lmrabet from practicing journalism for ten years, after finding him guilty of defaming a pro-government group known as the Association of Relatives of Saharawi Victims of Repression. Lmrabet’s “offense” was to have referred to the Saharawi people in the Algerian city of Tindouf as refugees, contradicting the Moroccan government’s position that they are prisoners of the Polisario Front – a rebel movement that is fighting for the independence of the Western Sahara. More information about human rights conditions in Morocco.  
 
Isioma Daniel (Nigeria), journalist, studied journalism in England. On her return to Nigeria, she took a job as a feature writer for This Day, a national newspaper. After nine months on the job, she was assigned to write a short piece on the Miss World contest being held in Nigeria. In the third paragraph, she wrote that “Muslims thought it was immoral to bring 92 women to Nigeria and ask them to revel in vanity. What would Mohammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them.” Islamic leaders were outraged by the article. Expressions of displeasure or offence at the article by some Muslims were seized on by militant groups to inflame religious sentiment and encourage violence. Within days, Muslim-Christian riots broke out in Northern Nigeria. Ms. Daniel’s words were cited as justification for the violence, but the underlying causes were political disputes and rivalries among different ethnic and political groups. Ms. Daniel tried to remain at work but the paper received death threats against her. Then she was summoned to report to state security, so she and her father decided she had to leave the country. She crossed the border to Benin and the next day learned a fatwa (an Islamic ruling) had been issued saying “The blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed. It is abiding on all Muslims wherever they are to consider killing the writer as a religious duty.” With help from the Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International, Ms. Daniel went to Norway where she received asylum. She is struggling to make a new life for herself as it would be difficult for her to return to Nigeria and dangerous for her to take up journalism there. More information about human rights conditions in Nigeria.  
 
Ameera Javeria (Pakistan), journalist, whose advocacy for women’s rights was seen a challenge to Sharia (Islamic law). When Ms. Javeria’s husband, also a journalist, left Pakistan in February 2001 to take a fellowship at the University of Michigan, Ms. Javeria stayed on but soon became the target of harassment, receiving threatening phone calls to herself and her mother. In August, she joined her husband in Michigan and was made visiting scholar. When her student visa expired in March 2004, she moved to Canada. More information about human rights conditions in Pakistan  
 
Yuri Bagrov (Russia), stringer for the Associated Press and Radio Free Europe/Liberty, a native of Georgia, is living in North Ossetia. He is one of a few reporters who regularly brought detailed, firsthand news from Chechnya, reporting casualty figures that differed from the information disseminated by the Russian military and stories about the plight of poorly paid Russian soldiers. In 2003, he applied for and received Russian citizenship. In August 2004, the Federal Security Service raided his house and took the family’s personal documents, his passport, computer, and tape recorder. In October, a local prosecutor summoned Bagrov’s wife for questioning. Later that day, he learned that he had been charged with forging documents to get Russian citizenship. Mr. Bagrov says that the papers he submitted were legitimate. The court has shown no proof of forgery, but the authorities have not returned his passport. Without the passport, Mr. Bagrov can no longer cover news in Chechnya and the surrounding regions. More information about human rights conditions in Russia.  
 
Ismail Mbonigaba (Rwanda), journalist and editor at Umuseso, a private, Kinyarwanda-language newspaper, was often interrogated by the Department of Criminal Investigations and twice briefly detained. In January 2003, he was imprisoned for one month on charges of “inciting division and discrimination” after publishing an article and cartoon that questioned the fairness of elections scheduled for July 2003. After his release, Mr. Mbonigaba left Umuseso and started a new journal, Indorerwanmo (The Mirror) but authorities seized the first edition claiming that he did not have the proper papers to publish. Indorerwanmo was forced to close and he went to work for the former prime minister who was a candidate for president against the incumbent president. In October 2003, Mr. Mbonigaba fled to Uganda after receiving death threats. More information about human rights conditions in Rwanda.  
 
Maha Hassan (Syria), writer of novels, short stories and essays, has been banned from publishing in Syria since 2000 because the authorities consider her writing too liberal, too feministic, and “morally condemnable.” She first aroused suspicions because a book she wrote was in a literary form that imitated the Torah (the Jewish scriptures), and was therefore labeled a “rehabilitation of Israel.” Ms. Hassan writes in Arabic although her mother tongue is Kurdish, and she is of Kurdish heritage, which aggravates her situation. She decided to flee the country when mounting rumors convinced her that she would soon be arrested and jailed. In August 2004 she went to Paris, the first time she had ever left her family or been out of Syria. More information about human rights conditions in Syria.  
 
Abdallah Zouari (Tunisia), high school teacher, wrote for the Arabic-language organ of An-Nahdha, a Tunisian Islamist party. In the early 1990s, the government of Tunisia arrested hundreds of An-Nahdha’s supporters and sentenced them to prison terms in two mass military trials. Mr. Zouari was among those convicted of plotting to overthrow the state and served an eleven-year sentence. Upon his release in 2002, the Interior Minister placed him under town arrest in a village in southern Tunisia, far from his family and previous professional life near Tunis. Since his release, he has been imprisoned twice on trumped-up charges, serving a total of thirteen additional months. He is under 24-hour police surveillance. Police have also instructed the proprietors of internet cafes near his house to refuse Zouari access to their facilities. Zouari’s applications for permission to visit his family have been ignored or rejected and his family’s home in Tunis has also come under periodic police surveillance. More information about human rights conditions in Tunisia.  



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