Human Rights Watch administers the Hellman/Hammett grant program for writers who have been victims of political persecution and are in financial need. Every year, between $150,000 and $200,000 from the estates of Lillian Heilman and Dashiell Hammett is given to writers all over the world. In addition to providing much needed financial assistance, the Hellman/Harnmett grants focus attention on repression of free speech and censorship by publicizing the persecution that the grant recipients endured. In some cases the publicity is a protection against further abuse. In other cases, the writers request anonymity because of the dangerous circumstances in which they and their families are living.
The recipients are a tiny portion of the many writers of the world whose books have been banned or who have been exiled, imprisoned, tortured, and harassed because of their work. For the third consecutive year, eight or more Chinese writers have received Hellman/Hammett grants as the government targets all who dare to express ideas that conflict with the ruling party line. Relying on the lure of its enormous economic potential to mute international protest, China continues to repress criticism in flagrant disregard for international free expression standards. This year twelve Turkish writers received grants, representing the wide range of thought (Islamist, Kurdish, leftist, and mainstream) that is often subject to harsh repression in Turkey. Their persecution for writing about a number of issues, including the Kurdish question, the role of Islam in society, and the nature of the Turkish state, co-exists with high degrees of free expression on almost all other topics, creating a national dichotomy that permeates public debate.
In 1997, forty-five writers from sixteen countries received Hellman/Hammett grants. In addition to the recipients from Turkey and China, there were six from Vietnam and two each from Indonesia, Iran, Liberia, and Nigeria.
The recipients whose names can be safely released are:
Ahmet Altan, Turkish journalist, was prosecuted for "insulting the government" based on two articles he wrote about the war in southeast Turkey.
Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian poet and environmental activist, was arrested and held without charge for six weeks.
Bui Minh Quoc, Vietnamese poet and former Communist patriot, was forced from his job and banned from publishing for criticizing the government.
Chan Tin, dissident Vietnamese Catholic priest, was sentenced to five years at hard labor for giving sermons and writing articles demanding the release of political prisoners. Ragip Duran, journalist for Turkish and international papers, was sentenced to ten months in prison and fined $4,000 for making "separatist propaganda."
Ah Erol, Turkish journalist, is the subject of thirty-seven law suits stemming from his tenure as editor of Evrensel, the leftist daily paper that was forced to close in October 1996.
Gertrude Fester, South African prison poet and short story writer, spent two years in prison for African National Congress
activities and is writing a history of the women's movement within the African National Congess.
Houshang Goishiri, Iranian novelist, was jailed by the Shah, fired from his job by the Islamic Republic, and continues to speak out in defense of basic human freedoms.
Atilla Halis, journalist, was convicted under Turkey's antiterror law for writing articles about new books on the cultural page of the now closed, pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem. Mustafa Islamoglu, poet and newspaper columnist, was convicted for giving a speech that "insulted the republic" and convicted again for writing an article that was found to violate a law that protects Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
Sefa Kaplan, reporter for a mainstream weekly magazine in Turkey, was convicted of "insulting Ataturk. Rather than go to prison, he fled to England.
Siaka Konneh, Liberian journalist, was arrested and tortured for exposing the Doe regime's secret killings and arbitrary arrests in 1988. In 1996, when he tried to report on the renewed fighting, his life was threatened, forcing him to flee to Guinea and Ghana and finally to seek asylum in the United States.
Ertugul Kurkcu, Turkish journalist, was charged several times, most notably for writing about an interview with Abdulah Ocal an, the leader of the PKK, a militant Kurdish rebel group.
Abdellatif Laabi, Moroccan poet and novelist, was tortured and sentenced to ten years in prison for "crimes of opinion" and then forced into exile.
Liu Hongbin, Chinese poet, whose poems were posted in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 demonstrations, fled to London. While on a return visit to his mother in 1997, he was arrested and expelled.
Liu Xiaobo, literary critic, has been repeatedly harassed and arrested for dissenting from the Chinese government party line. In October 1996, he was sentenced to three years of re-education through labor.
Ababas Maroufi, Iranian novelist and journalist, whose books are banned, has been legally barred from working in Iran.
Emad El-Meky, journalist, questioned and tortured for reporting on the political situation in Sudan, fled to Egypt. Still at risk from Sudanese agents, he has applied for asylum in the United States.
Nguyen Dinh Huy, Vietnamese journalist, is serving a fifteen-year prison term for planning to hold an international conference to promote peaceful support for democracy.
Nguyen Ngoc Lan, philosophy professor, is under strict surveillance for writing articles calling for freedom of expression and political pluralism in Vietnam.
Nguyen Van Tran, Vietnamese political commentator and communist party elder statesman, gradually became alienated and published a humorous collection of articles disparaging the Vietnamese Communist Party. Though under an order of suppression, he continues to publish.
Mehmet Oguz, Turkish journalist, faces a ten-month prison term for an editorial he wrote for a pro-Kurdish weekly. Several cases are pending against him for articles published in other pro-Kurdish publications.
Phan Thanh Hoai, Vietnamese physician turned author, was barred from publishing but kept writing. As the political issues that forced his "retirement" faded, he published his first book at age 67.
Fahmida Riaz, Pakistani poet, novelist, and journalist, was charged with treason by the Zia government because of her views on co-existence with India and Bangladesh.
Ahmet Sik, Turkish journalist and photographer, fled to England when he started receiving death threats after he photographed and testified about the arrest of a journalist who died in police custody.
Su Xiao Kang, author of a widely acclaimed book about the historical reasons for persistentauthoritarianism in China, was put on China's "most wanted" list after the massacre at Tianamen Square.
Wang Dan, columnist and editor, sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the June 1989 Beijing demonstrations, was released as part of China's effort to win Most Favored Nation trade status. Wang refused to be silenced and was rearrested in May 1995, heldincommunicado for seventeen months, convicted in a closed trial of "conspiring to subvert the government," and is serving an eleven-year prison sentence.
Wang Xizhe was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for the major role his essays played in Democracy Wall movement in China. Released on parole (under close police surveillance) two years early, he continued talking to foreign journalists and publishing articles in Hong Kong. As his parole was about to expire, he was told it had been extended for two years.
Isik Yurtcu, editor responsible for the pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem when it was closed by the Turkish government, was the target of numerous law suits resulting in sentences totaling five years, ten months in prison and more than U.S.$10,000 in fines. Cases pending in the Appeals Court would add time and dollars to his sentences.
Aysenur Zarakolu has served multiple prison terms for publishing books on the Kurds and other minorities in Turkey. Most recently she was convicted for publishing a translation of theHuman Rights Watch report, Weapons Thansfers and Violations of the Laws of War in Turkey.
Zhang Xian Liang, author of numerous articles and poems attacking corruption and autocracy in the Chinese government, was most recently imprisoned for arranging a commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre. His treatment in labor camps permanently damaged his health.
Three La Voje journalists, Abou Drahamane Sangare, Freedom Neruda, and Emmanuel Kore, were sentenced to two years in prison for publishing a satirical article that offended the president of Ivory Coast. Offered a pardon if they would withdraw the appeal of their conviction, they refused.
The Hellman/Hammett grants were awarded after nominations were reviewed by a five-person selection committee composed of writers and editors. In the course of the year, the selection committee approved nine additional grants to writers who needed emergency funds to help in situations where their lives were in immediate danger.
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