The Hellman/Hammett grants are given annually by Human Rights Watch to recognize the courage of writers around the world who have been targets of political persecution and are in financial need. Twenty-seven writers from twenty countries received grants in 2001. Some recipients were in prison; many were forced to flee their homelands; all have been harassed, assaulted, or threatened. Each case is different, but all were persecuted for expressing opinions, reporting stories, or disseminating ideas that offended their governments.
In many countries, governments use a variety of tactics--from military and presidential decrees, criminal libel and sedition laws to intimidatory criminal violence to silence critics. Writers and journalists are often thrown in jail merely for providing information from nongovernmental sources. As a result, in addition to those who are directly targeted, many others are silenced by threats and self-censorship.
The Hellman/Hammett grant program began in 1989 when the estates of American authors Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett asked Human Rights Watch to design a program for writers in financial need as a result of expressing their views. By publicizing the persecution that the grant recipients endure, Human Rights Watch focuses attention on censorship and suppression of free speech. 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.
Following are short biographies of the recipients in 2001 whose names can be safely released:
(Burma), an imprisoned poet whose work expresses the feelings of ordinary people about the social and economic crisis in their country, has been repeatedly targeted by the military government because of his contacts with the rebellious student movement. He was arrested in 1967 and detained for a year, and arrested again in 1978 and held for seventeen months. During the 1988 pro-democracy movement, he served as joint secretary of the People's Peaceful Demonstration Committee in the Delta region. Subsequently, he joined a fledgling media group, which produced videos and calendars. In 1996, the military government banned his videos because they were considered to show too negative a picture of Burmese society and living standards. In 1999, he was arrested and sentenced to an eight-year prison term.
(Spain), who writes poetry, children's tales, political commentary, and essays on Basque history, is a professor of social anthropology at the University of Bilbao. His major contribution has been to deconstruct the theory of "ethnic exclusionism" that radical nationalists use to define the Basque historical experience. In the 1960s, Azurmendi was a member of the armed separatist group ETA. After its violent attacks on the Franco regime, he left to join the Basque pro-democracy movement. He is a founder of the Foro Ermua, one of the most prestigious groups promoting peace and democracy in the Basque region. Meanwhile, ETA has systematically subjected him to threats, painting "Azurmendi to the firing wall" on his office, and distributing pamphlets urging that he be killed. After a bomb attack in August 2000, he fled to the United States.
(China), poet and essayist, came to the United States in 1988 on an ex-change with a Chinese-language newspaper. After the Tiananmen Square protest, he stayed and founded Tendency Quarterly, a scholarly literary magazine. By 1998, Bei Ling began to travel to China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, researching, writing, and editing Tendency. In 2000, he rented an apartment and opened editorial offices in Beijing. After printing the summer issue of Tendency in Beijing, he was detained for two weeks in August 2000 and charged with "illegal publication." Beijing security forces interrogated him and threatened a ten-year prison term. They offered leni-ency if he provided information about the identity of Chinese citizens who had helped to produce Tendency. Bei Ling refused. After an international protest, Chinese authorities levied a $24,000 fine and permitted him to return to the United States.
(Chad) is an investigative journalist whose problems started when he uncovered financial scandals in health and environmental programs in Senegal, where he lived in exile. In November 1999, he was attacked and badly beaten by operatives who accused him of writing overly critical articles on Chad's president Idress Deby. Then Bekoutou began covering the case of Hissène Habré, Chad's exiled former dictator who was indicted in Senegal on torture charges. Bekoutou wrote numerous articles exposing political killings, torture, and "disappearances" during the Habré regime. He played a key role in keeping newspapers from prematurely leaking news of the Habré indictment, which would have given Habré time to flee. The day after Habré's indictment, Bekoutou began receiving death threats. Fearing for his life, he fled to Paris.
(Vietnam) started a career in journalism in 1954, writing in accord with the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) line. Gradually, he became critical of the VCP perspective. He was arrested as a "revisionist and antiparty element" in 1968 and imprisoned without trial until 1973. After his release, he wrote stories and novels but, banned from publishing, earned his living as a laborer. In 1995, he was permitted to publish again. Nhung Nguoi Rach Viec (These People with Nothing to Do), published in 1995, and Mot Ngay Dai Dang Dang (A Very Long and Boring Day), published in 1999, were mildly critical of the ruling regime. In 2000, he published Chuyen Ke Nam 2000 (Story Told in Year 2000), a denunciation of the government's detention policy. Too much for the censors, the book was recalled and burned. The Hai Phong police have subjected him to numerous interrogations and keep him under heavy surveillance.
Bui Ngoc Tan
(Cambodia), journalist, has written mostly on social issues and public safety--law enforcement, robberies, mob violence, and street demonstrations. At the time of writing, he worked for the Evening News in Phnom Penh, an English language newspaper generally regarded as leaning toward the ruling Cambodian People's Party. In March 1997, while he was covering a peaceful demonstration in front of the National Assembly, someone threw grenades into the crowd killing at least sixteen people and injuring hundreds of others. Mony's right leg was broken and shrapnel pierced his left eye. Members of a bodyguard unit of Prime Minister Hun Sen were implicated in the attack, but no one has ever been arrested. Mony's eye injury continued to cause pain.
(India) has been a prolific writer in many genres, including fiction, plays, essays, and journalism. In 1979, she was charged under the penal code with writing pornographic literature, and a warrant was issued for her arrest based on two pages from one novel. Many in the government said that the indictment had no basis and would be withdrawn, but it was not, and police returned to her house "almost every month" for the next two years to harass her. The literary magazine, Sarika, conducted a campaign against her, publishing vulgar letters about her in more than a dozen issues over the period of more than one year. Aniya, a political and historical epic novel published in 1980, was condemned unread. Garg did not give up or compromise her writing. In the next twenty years, she published fifteen books, of which only four were novels, but the label "shock value fiction" stuck, and her work has been denied serious literary assessment.
(Spain), journalist, has covered nationalism, Basque politics, and terrorism-related issues in print and on radio and television since 1989. In December 1997, a bomb was found by the front door of the apartment where she lived with her two sons. She had written a front-page story about a fugitive Basque youth who was acquitted by a jury in a controversial trial even though he had admitted killing two policemen. The article said that he had been discovered in Cuba and might be receiving support from militant Basque separatists in exile there. The bombing caused Gurruchaga to move from her lifelong home in San Sebastian to Madrid. Her name is often found on "black lists," and Molotov cocktails have been thrown at her office.
(Cambodia), novelist and songwriter, has been writing prolifically since the 1950s, but was forced to became a farmer while the Khmer Rouge were in power. It is likely he would have been killed had he revealed his identity. With the collapse of the Khmer Rouge, he resumed writing. The plot of his last novel, The Destiny of Marina, or Acid-Laced Vengeance, published in 2000, bore many similarities to the 1999 scandal of a karaoke singer who was attacked with acid by the jealous wife of a government official. The book addressed the problem of official impunity in Cambodia. After publication, Kong Bun Chhoeun received death threats from the husband of the woman who had mutilated the singer. In November 2000, Kong Bun Chhoen fled to Thailand.
Kong Bun Chhoeun
(Tunisia) is a medical doctor and leading human rights activist whose writing is banned in Tunisia. Some of his work has been published in Arabic in Egypt; some in French has been published in Europe. Dr. Marzouki was jailed for four months in 1994 after announcing his candidacy in the presidential election. The government also closed the community medical clinic that he founded. Threats to him and his family caused his wife and daughters to move to Europe. In June 1999, he was abducted by security officials and held incommunicado for several days. He has been denied a passport, preventing him from travel abroad for professional reasons or to visit his family. He has faced repeated judicial investigations on spurious charges. In December 2000, he was sentenced to one year in prison for "defaming the authorities" and "spreading false information."
(Ethiopia), pen name Motii Biya, journalist and author of several books on Oromo society and history, was arrested in 1997. His arrest is thought to be connected to newspaper columns he wrote and his membership in the Ethiopian Human Rights League. He was held without charge or trial for more than two years and then released on bail. After a period of liberty in Addis Ababa, the capital, he fled the country in fear of persecution. He was granted refugee status and received political asylum in Canada.
Gemechu Melka Tufa
(Iraq) is a widely published poet and journalist whose allegorical book, Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea, was banned in Iraq. She wrote anti-war poems that could not be published in Iraq because they were deemed "subversive." Warned that her "life is at risk" if she does not "stop anti-government writings" she sought asylum and fled to the United States.
(Indonesia), bureau chief in the capital of Irian Jaya (West Papua) for Indonesia's biggest and best-known newspaper, Kompas, served as rapporteur for a "national dialogue" on Irian Jaya between President Habibie and one hundred community leaders. Habibie's participation was conditioned on the participants' acceptance of a ban on discussion of independence. This not withstanding, the leaders presented Habibie with a petition demanding independence when they came to Jakarta for the dialogue. A few months later, Mote and four intellectuals who had been involved in the dialogue were the object of fabricated charges that they had been buying arms. Although not detained, the charges resulted in their blacklisting to keep them from leaving the country. The same day the travel restrictions were imposed, Mote boarded a plane for the United States as part of a U.S. Information Agency Visitors Program. In August 2000, as he was preparing to go back home, the crackdown on Irian Jaya's independence movement took a sharp turn for the worse prompting Mote to postpone his return. The Open Society Institute gave him a grant to stay at Cornell University for a year.
(Pakistan), journalist, has written extensively on political corruption, the role of senior politicians and their aides in the drug trade, trafficking Bangladeshi women into Pakistan with the help of Pakistani border forces, recruitment of teenage students from Islamic seminaries to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan, urban decay, and male homosexuality. He is also a published poet in his native language, Sindhi. Mujtaba's life has been threatened repeatedly, most recently prompted by his research into treatment of Pakistan's Hindu minority. In April 1999, he came to the United States to receive an award from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and stayed to seek asylum.
(Russia), journalist and naval officer, was arrested in 1997 and charged with state treason (article 275 of the criminal code) in retaliation for his writing about the dumping of radioactive waste in the Sea of Japan. Russian authorities claimed that he intended to pass state secrets to a foreign power. After spending twenty months in prison, he was acquitted of the treason charges--a verdict that was appealed--and found guilty of a lesser charge, abuse of office, for which he was sentenced to three years and amnestied. Pasko rejected the amnesty. In November 2000, the Military Board of the Russian Supreme Court accepted the prosecution's appeal of the acquittal of treason charges. That trial opened in July 2001 at the Pacific Fleet Military Courthouse in Vladivostok and was continuing. If convicted, Pasko faced a prison sentence of twelve to twenty years.
(Romania), poet, philosopher, and university professor in Cluj, founded and edits the magazine Apostrof, an important voice of reason and integrity in Romania today. She has written critically about Romanian extreme right ideology, provoking repressive reactions from many antidemocratic political groups, gradually isolating herself and Apostrof. She received threats and was attacked by a mob at a public reading.
(Vietnam) started his career in the People's Liberation Army in 1945 at age fourteen. Over the next forty years he rose to the rank of colonel. In 1982, he became editor in chief of Tap Chi Lich Su Quan Su (Military History Review) and devoted all of his time to writing. In 1986, he was fired because he refused to obey orders not to report about the careers of dismissed officers. In 1990, he was investigated and accused of supporting Tran Xuan Bach, secretary general of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), for the seventh Congress, who was expelled for advocating pluralism. In 1999, Pham Que Duong quit the VCP in solidarity with a prominent outspoken dissident and became a democracy activist. His house has been searched several times, his telephone tapped, his e-mail suppressed, and he was often summoned to police headquarters for questioning.
Pham Que Duong
(Afghanistan), novelist and short story writer, fled from Afghanistan's Zabol province in 1980, and subsequently settled in the Pakistani city of Quetta. Following the mujahideen takeover of Kabul in 1992, the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani judged his novel The Fifth Marriage hostile to Islamic teachings and burned copies of it. In the summer of 2000, after publication of a collection of stories, Zeera Ra Wastawai Khair Yusai (Send Charity, God Bless You), Taliban authorities ruling Afghanistan found the book was an "insult to religious leaders" and issued a decree branding Qaney and his publisher, Mustafa Sahar, "apostates." Taliban supporters in Quetta seized all copies of the book and burned them outside a mosque. Fearing for his safety, Qaney left his family and went into hiding.
(Burma), novelist and poet, has spent long periods in prison for her political activities. She has been serving her current ten-year sentence since October 1994 for "fomenting trouble" by producing anti-government reports and sending them to foreign journalists. She has been offered freedom if she renounces all political activity, but she has regularly refused to do so, despite being forced to sit cross-legged in a cramped cell with three other political convicts and barred from speaking for more than fifteen minutes a day. She was plagued with poor health--kidney infections, high blood pressure, and eye problems.
San San Nweh
(China), poet and essayist, has been involved in underground literary activity since the early 1980s. State security authorities have kept him under close surveillance, have regularly summoned him for interrogation and detention, and banned publication of his work. In January 2000, Wang Yi Liang was arrested for "disrupting social order" and sentenced to two years of "reeducation through labor."
(Turkey), songwriter and composer, has also written fiction and was a regular columnist for the Kurdish daily newspaper, Ozgur Gundem. Following the military coup in 1980, he lived in exile in Germany for eleven years. On his return in 1991, he threw himself into human rights work. He has developed an original method for attacking repression of free expression. When someone was convicted for expressing a nonviolent opinion, he found a prominent person to republish the statement and accompanied the republication with a disclaimer defending the person's right to express his views, not the views themselves. The republications were cheap photocopies, but this was enough to trigger prosecution under Turkish law. When prosecutors were reluctant to lodge charges against prominent people, Yurdatapan forced them to prosecute by threatening prosecution for not carrying out their duties. He has published forty-three Freedom for Freedom of Expression booklets. The first one caused ninety defendants to be charged. The last one had 70,000 publishers who are all now subject to state prosecution. The prosecutors usually found ways to avoid concluding the cases, but in attempts to stop Yurdatapan they have lodged trumped-up charges against him and imprisoned him three times.
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