Five Iranian writers win awards
New York, July 14, 1999 (Human Rights Watch) -- African writers received
the lion's share of this year's Hellman/Hammett grants, a clear indication
of the hazards confronted by those in the writing profession on the African
Of the thirty-two grant recipients, fourteen come from African countries,
five hail from Iran (see below, in red) , and four from Vietnam. The Hellman/Hammett
grants are given annually by Human Rights Watch to writers around the world
who have been targets of political persecution.
The grant program began in 1989 when the estates of American authors
Lillian Hellman and Dashiel Hammett asked Human Rights Watch to design
a program for writers in financial need as a result of expressing their
This year's grants totaled $170,000. In many countries, writers are
threatened, harassed, assaulted, or thrown into jail merely for providing
information from non-governmental sources. Governments often use military
and presidential decrees, criminal libel, and colonial-era sedition laws
to silence critics. As a result many journalists and writers are forced
to practice self-censorship.
Short biographies of the 1999 recipients follow.
Akinwumi Adesokan (Nigeria), novelist, essayist, and journalist. Mr.
Adesokan and colleagues from The News were detained for a week in 1993.
Thereafter, he worked with the constant threat of arrest. In November
1997 on his return to Lagos from writing fellowships abroad, he was detained,
interrogated, and held incommunicado for two months. His manuscripts,
computer, and money were confiscated. Memories of incarceration and the
political climate around General Abacha's bid for re-election made it hard
to write. After Abacha's death in the summer of 1998, Mr. Adesokan was
able to return to UCLA where he spent the year working on a second novel.
Lanre Arogundade (Nigeria), journalist, was first targeted in 1984 when
as a student leader, he wrote columns opposing the military government's
attempts to restrict academic inquiry and raise university fees. As
a result, he was abducted and imprisoned, and then, in response to student
protests, released. Harassment continued, usually linked to his attendance
at international conferences or when he spoke up for press freedom in Nigeria.
In the past year Mr. Arogundade was arrested three times on unsupported
allegations ranging from gun running to association with illegal organizations.
He was arrested a fourth time in April and charged with murder, a charge
that he and his supporters maintain is motivated by political efforts to
undermine the independent media. He was held for twenty-three days and
then released on bail while he waits for a trial date to be set.
Aung Htun (Burma) was arrested in March 1998 and is serving a fifteen-year
prison term for writing a seven-volume history of the Burmese student movement.
Previously, Aung Htun was actively involved in the August 1988 uprising.
In the early 1990s, he spent four years in prison for engaging in political
activities. During that confinement, he was tortured and spent two years
in a solitary prison cell.
Grémah Boucar (Niger), publisher of Anfani newspaper and Anfani
magazine, is also director of Radio Anfani, a leading private broadcast
company that owns three radio stations. In July 1996, soldiers vandalized
and closed Radio Anfani for one month in retaliation for its coverage of
the political opposition during the run-up to national elections. Arrests
and harassment followed. On March 1, 1997, five unidentified men wearing
military uniforms ransacked the station's studios and destroyed newly installed
equipment valued at US $80,000. Boucar, three journalists, and two security
guards were arrested on unspecified charges. On May 4, 1998, Radio Anfani
broadcast a petition condemning government attempts to intimidate the press,
prompting state security officers to occupy the station. In the summer
of 1998, Boucar was kidnapped from his home and threatened with death.
He was released but continues to receive death threats. In 1998 alone,
he was arrested and detained nine times, but he still refuses to compromise
the content of broadcasts on Radio Anfani.
Fabio Castillo (Colombia), journalist, has investigated and reported
on corruption and abuse of power within the international drug trade for
nearly twenty years. During this time, he received many death threats
and was sued repeatedly. In 1986, when El Espectador's publisher was murdered
on orders of Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellin cartel, Castillo organized
a group of reporters from several papers to publish the same story on the
same day in order to deflect attacks against individual journalists. Shortly
afterwards, editors at El Espectador refused to publish the findings of
one of Castillo's investigations, so he turned the material into a book
called The Cocaine Horsemen. Death threats followed its publication and
forced him into a five-year exile in Spain. He returned to Colombia in
1993 and resumed writing for El Espectador. In 1998, people close to then-President
Ernesto Samper purchased El Espectador, and Castillo was fired. Since
then, he has been trying to start a magazine of political humor and investigative
Akbar Ganji (Iran), editor of the weekly
news magazine Rah-e No, was held in incommunicado detention for three months
after he gave a speech that criticized the government, and Rah-e No was
closed for publishing articles that expressed similar criticism. He was
released from detention in 1998 but could be taken back into custody at
any time in the next five years.
Hamid-Reza Jalei-Pour (Iran) was the publisher
of the daily newspaper Jameh whose reputation for championing reform caused
it to be closed. Within a few days, Mr. Jalei-Pour opened another paper,
Tous. It was promptly accused of being Jameh under another name. Tous
continued to publish despite an attack by Hezbollahi on its editorial offices
and threats of legal action. In September 1998, Mr. Jalei-Pour and his
colleagues were arrested and charged by the Revolutionary Court with publishing
articles "against security and general interests," and then Tous
Paschal Khoo-Thwe (Burma), student leader, fled to the jungle when threatened
with arrest for expressing students' opinions. He worked as a medic in
refugee camps and was wounded during an army attack. With the help of
a Cambridge University don, he escaped to Thailand, emigrated to England,
and entered Caius College where he won a rare first for creative writing
in English, his third language. He now works as a cook in London to support
himself while he struggles to write.
Niran Malaolu (Nigeria) was arrested in December 1997 at the offices
of The Diet, an independent newsweekly where he worked as an editor.
Convicted of "information gathering" and "implication in
an alleged coup plot," he was sentenced to life in prison with no
right of appeal. In July 1998, the sentence was reduced to fifteen years.
In prison, he caught typhoid fever and an infection that threatens his
eyesight, but prison officials refused to provide medical care. Appeals
for his release were finally successful in April 1999.
Goretti Mapulanga (Zambia) has read, produced, directed, and edited
news for radio and television. She also anchored the news program, "Good
Morning Zambia." Ms. Mapulanga was fired by the state-run television
station in November 1997. Her husband, Cornelius Mapulanga, an employee
at the same station, was fired the same day. No explanation was provided,
but Ms. Mapulanga thinks a telephone interview with President Chiluba about
privatization set the stage for firing her. Mr. Mapulanga is thought to
have been fired because she would have had undue influence on the station
if he worked there. The Mapulangas were offered positions by other broadcast
outlets but their would-be employers received warnings from state officials
not to hire them and the offers were promptly withdrawn. Their home is
under permanent surveillance. State agents follow Ms. Mapulanga when she
goes out, she's been chased in the streets by unidentified people, and
she and her children have been forced out of public transportation. The
Zambian Human Rights Commission (a state commission) refused to investigate.
Recep Marasli (Turkey) has written prolifically in prose and poetry
on minority rights and runs a publishing house that specializes in books
on Kurdish culture. He has been arrested five times and spent many of
the last twenty years in prison where bad treatment and hunger strikes
have caused permanent damage to his health. After his most recent arrest
in March 1997, he spent a year in jail before being acquitted of charges
of involvement in an illegal group. He has left Turkey for the present
but still faces other charges and the threat of re-arrest if he returns.
Patricia McFadden (Swaziland) currently lives in Zimbabwe where she
is known for her work as a writer and feminist activist in the women's
movement, particularly in Southern Africa. Khilida Messaoudi (Algeria),
a feminist political activist, has written a memoir and published two books
of essays and articles. She founded several women's organizations and
organizes against the Family Code which blatantly discriminates against
women. In 1993, Islamists issued a fatwa against her. Since then, she
has survived three assassination attempts and frequently changes her residence.
In 1997, she was elected to the National Assembly as a representative
of the RDC, a small secular opposition party.
Modeste Mutinga Mutuishayi (Democratic Republic of Congo), editor and
managing director of an independent daily paper, Demain L'Afrique, is also
president of an NGO that promotes peace by educating the public on civic
issues through the press. In the hostile wartime environment that has
prevailed since Kabila assumed power as head of state, Mr. Mutinga's commitment
to report the news objectively has caused repeated detentions and harassment
by national security agents who have often prevented publication of his
Seyeed Ebrahim Nabvi (Iran), writer and
political satirist, was arrested and detained for a month because of articles
he wrote for Tous and Jameh (see Hamid-Raza Jalei-Pour, above).
Latif Pedram (Afghanistan), poet and journalist, was a founder and an
editor of the independent bi-monthly journal, Sobh-i-Omid (Morning of Hope),
that was started in Kabul in 1995, three years after the mujahedeen took
power and installed an Islamic state. After publishing six issues, Sobh-i-Omid
was banned by the government which cited articles by Mr. Pedram that had
criticized policies of the government then in power under President Burhanuddin
Rabbani. Mr. Pedram was also threatened several times after he published
a short book on the need to separate religion from politics. He moved
to Pol-i Khomri where he was responsible for running the public library.
He also set up two independent publications, a weekly news magazine and
a cultural review. In August 1998, two years after the Taliban seized
power in Kabul, he learned that they too were seeking his arrest and execution.
He went into hiding, but his brother and uncle, who were at his home when
the militia arrived, were taken hostage. The library which contained 55,000
books and old manuscripts was burned to the ground. Mr. Pedram escaped
to France where he currently lives in exile.
Alex Redd (Liberia), journalist, worked for the News, a newspaper in
Monrovia and then for the radio news show "Sunrise," also in
Monrovia. Redd was arrested several times and labeled an anti-government
element for reporting human rights abuses that angered some government
officials. In December 1997, security forces kidnaped, tortured, and threatened
him with death for investigating the murder of a prominent opposition politician,
Sam Dokie and his family. Mr. Redd was released on bail and staying with
friends when his home was vandalized. Fearing for his life, he fled to
New York. He was granted political asylum in October 1998 and is living
in Madison, Wisconsin, where his family joined him in April 1999.
Hojatolesam Mohssen Saeidzadeh (Iran),
a legal scholar who resigned from a judgeship to research and write about
Islamic law, is the author of numerous newspaper articles and several books
including one on Koranic interpretation that is banned. Mr. Saeidzadeh
has argued that Iranian law's discrimination against women is inconsistent
with Sharia. This made him a target for conservatives in Iran's clerical
establishment. He was arrested in June 1998 and held for four months without
charge or access to counsel. On his release from detention, his status
as a clergyman was rescinded. In October 1998, Iran's Culture and Islamic
Guidance ministry refused to allow publication of his new book, Freedom
of Women During the Time of Mohammad, charging that the book showed disrespect
to the prophet of Islam.
Masahallah Shamss-Ol-Vaezin (Iran), editor
of both Jameh and Tous, has been one of the most outspoken champions of
free expression in Iran. After the closing of Tous in September 1998,
he was arrested and detained for one month by the Revolutionary Court.
Alieu Sheriff (Sierra Leone and Gambia), journalist, was arrested and
detained in his native Sierra Leone for critical reporting on the civil
war. He fled to Gambia and within a year was arrested and abused by security
forces for writing a commentary on the political situation there. With
help from the U.S. ambassador, whom Sheriff met at a USIA-sponsored workshop,
Sheriff obtained a U.S. visa. Security officers detained him at the airport
and almost refused to let him board the plane. Arriving in New York in
December 1994, he was granted asylum in August 1995. Mr Sheriff entered
Hunter College, where he won awards for his work as a student journalist,
and graduated in December 1998. He will begin a master's degree program
at the Columbia School of Journalism in August 1999.
Zamira Sydykova (Kyrgyzstan), journalist, wrote for several newspapers
in Kyrgyzstan and then in 1992, seeing opportunities for free expression
and free enterprise in the new Kyrgyz Republic, she founded its first independent
newspaper, Res Publica. In addition to her duties as editor in chief,
Ms. Sydykova took on several major investigations, including the 1997 exposé
of the state gold company. This piece provoked a criminal libel suit and
resulted in an eighteen- month prison sentence.
* * * *
Other recipients will remain anonymous because of the dangerous circumstances
in which they are living. They include writers from Belarus, Cameroon,
China, Eritrea, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, United States,
and Vietnam. The Hellman/Hammett grants are announced each spring. In
the nine previous years of the program, more than 350 writers have received
grants totaling more than one-and-a-half million dollars.
The Hellman/Hammett funds also make small emergency grants from time
to time throughout the year for writers who have an urgent need to leave
their country or who find themselves in desperate financial circumstances
as a result of political persecution. Again, Sub-Sahara Africa is home
to the most grantees. Among them are: Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto from
Zimbabwe; Edith Lianue Gongloe and Alphonos Onso Nyenuh from Liberia; Andrew
Koromah, Kevin Lewis, Winston Ojukutu-Macauley, and David Tam-Baryoh from
For more information, contact:
Marcia Allina, 212/216-1246
Carroll Bogert, 212/216-1244