Kadivar and Soroush win human rights grants
(New York) July 4, 2000 -- Human Rights Watch today announced a diverse
group of writers from 22 countries to receive grants recognizing their
courage in the face of political persecution.
Many, like Taoufik Ben Brik of Tunisia, Mamadali Makhmudov of Uzbekistan,
and Nadire Mater of Turkey, were jailed for writings that offended the
government. Some have been forced into exile; Jonah Anguka (Kenya), Kadhi-Joni
Mahdi (Iraq), and Alejandra Matus (Chile), have received asylum in the
United States. Others are victims of bloody conflicts in the former Yugoslavia,
Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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 Dashiell Hammett asked Human Rights Watch to design a program
for writers in financial need as a result of expressing their views. This
year's grants totaled $170,000.
In many countries, governments use military and presidential decrees,
criminal libel, and colonial-era sedition laws to silence critics. Writers
and journalists are often threatened, harassed, assaulted, or thrown into
jail merely for providing information from nongovernmental sources. As
a result, in addition to those who are directly targeted, many others are
forced to practice self-censorship.
Short biographies of the recipients who received grants in 2000 follow.
Jonah Anguka (Kenya), writer and former government administrator, was
tortured and held in solitary confinement for three years on fabricated
charges that he had murdered Robert Ouko, the foreign minister. After his
acquittal by a Nairobi High Court, he was dismissed from his job and put
under constant surveillance by President Moi's intelligence service. Fearing
for his life, Mr. Anguka fled to the United States and was granted asylum.
In exile, he published a book, Absolute Power, the Ouko Murder Mystery
in which he names people who he believes were involved in the murder plot,
examines the police role in the cover-up, and lists possible motives for
Claudia Anthony (Sierra Leone), journalist, has contributed to many
independent newspapers in Freetown and to the BBC World Service. She is
best known for writing about the rights of women and children. In February
1997, she founded her own paper, The Tribune of the People. She is also
the founder and executive director of the Alliance for Female Journalists
in Sierra Leone. In January 1998, the ruling junta warned her to stop filing
reports to the BBC, a serious threat in the context of Sierra Leone's brutal
civil war. Ms. Anthony continued reporting. One month later, armed rebels
stormed her office because that day's paper had published a story describing
an incident of looting carried out by a well-known rebel commander. She
escaped by pretending to be someone else. During the rebel invasion in
January 1999, armed men damaged and looted the offices of The Tribune of
the People, and it was forced to close. Ms. Anthony remains in Freetown
at great risk.
Taoufik Ben Brik (Tunisia) is one of the few journalists to break the
silence of self-censorship that has pervaded the Tunisian press under President
Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. As a result, Ben Brik has repeatedly been the
target of government harassment. His passport was lifted to prevent him
from leaving Tunisia; he was physically assaulted by presumed state agents;
his phone lines are frequently cut, and his family's property has been
vandalized by suspected plainclothes policemen. On April 3, 2000, Ben Brik
was summoned before a state prosecutor for questioning about articles he
wrote for European newspapers about the human rights situation in Tunisia.
He then began a hunger strike to protest his treatment and that of other
human rights defenders. After twenty-eight days, the government dropped
the charges against him and gave him a new passport. Ben Brik continued
his hunger strike until his brother was also released.
Yorro Jallow (The Gambia) is the founder and managing editor of The
Independent, a bi-weekly newspaper that strives to provide an alternative
to the country's pro-government press. One month after launching the paper,
Jallow and his staff were arrested, held but not charged, threatened and
released. The next day, they were told to report to the National Intelligence
Agency with documents relating to the newspaper's registration. After several
weeks of hassling, the paper resumed publication. Jallow suspects the harassment
is due, at least in part, to an editorial that the paper ran condemning
human rights abuses committed in The Gambia.
Gakoko John (Uganda-Kenya) was born to a Tutsi Rwandese refugee family
in southern Uganda and escaped to Kenya in 1981 when the Ugandan army accused
his family of sympathizing with the rebels and murdered them all except
his cousin and himself. He lived freely in Nairobi for more than a decade
until a new Kenyan policy forced him into Kakuma Refugee Camp. In the camp,
he has been writing articles and poetry for the newsletter and teaching
in the adult education program. In 1996, when Hutu refugees arrived in
Kakuma, they started to harass him, alleging that his writing showed a
Tutsi bias that made him an unwelcome neighbor. In February 1998, they
set fire to his house at 2 a.m. while he slept. He narrowly escaped and
has been living in fear for his life.
Mohsen Kadivar (Iran) is a legal scholar whose writing on the theology
of freedom has been critical of the doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih (Rule of
the Supreme Jurist), an innovation in Shi'te political thought instituted
in Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. This controversial theory places
temporal and spiritual power in the hands of the most qualified religious
scholar. Kadivar and an increasing number of religious scholars in Iran
have questioned the religious authenticity of this form of autocratic rule.
In 1999, Kadivar was convicted by the Special Court for Clergy and sentenced
to eighteen months in prison on charges of having spread false information
about Iran's "sacred system of the Islamic Republic" and of helping
enemies of the Islamic revolution.
Zeljko Kopanja (Serbia), editor of Nezavisne Novine, Serbia's main
independent paper, received numerous complaints and death threats after
publication of front page articles giving detailed accounts of war crimes
committed by Serbian armed forces in Bosnia. On October 22, 1999, he was
seriously wounded when a bomb exploded as he opened his car door. Doctors
were forced to amputate both his legs. The perpetrators have not been found,
and Mr. Kopanja continues to write.
Christiana Lambrinidis (Greece) writes experimental conflict- resolution
plays based on testimony of women living in areas of ethnic or political
conflict. Following production of one play in Athens in 1998, she received
death threats, there was a bomb scare at the theater, her women's literature
seminar was canceled, government funding that had been promised was withheld,
and book stores refused to stock her book.
Hamide Berisha-Latifi (Kosovo), journalist, received death threats,
lost her job, was harassed, beaten, and arrested for her work as a writer.
In March 1998, she discovered that her name was on a police "blacklist."
Shortly later, after taking a photo of the police beating an Albanian student
at a peaceful demonstration in Pristina, she was turned over to the police
by a Serbian journalist. She pretended to be a foreigner and was released.
Unable to work, she went to England, where she coordinated the Alliance
of Kosova Journalists and edited its magazine, Pa Cenzure-Uncensored. In
May 2000, she returned to Kosovo.
Li Shizheng (China), a journalist and poet, is widely known under his
pen name Duo Duo. In 1989, while attending an international poetry festival,
he gave interviews that made it dangerous for him to return to post-Tiananmen
China. He settled in Holland and is struggling to publish.
Kadhim-Joni Mahdi (Iraq), fiction writer, was jailed in 1991 for speaking
against the government and jailed again in 1994 for his involvement with
a literary group. On release from prison, he fled via Jordan and Saudi
Arabia to the United States where he was granted refugee status. He now
lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and supports himself as a barber while trying
to finish a novel.
Mamadali Makhmudov (Uzbekistan) is a poet in the traditional "dastan"
style of epic verse which typically features a hero with magical qualities.
Under the Soviet Union, the dastan was labeled "impregnated with the
poison of feudalism" and Makhmudov was forced to repudiate his work.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, his most famous work, Immortal Cliffs,
was retroactively awarded the Cholpan Prize. In 1991, Makhmudov supported
the political party of a fellow writer, Muhammad Salih. The party lost
the elections and has been banned since 1993. Makhmudov was first arrested
in 1994 when his house was raided and police produced a firearm as evidence
that he was guilty of terrorism. This charge met with widespread disbelief
and was dropped. Next he was charged with embezzlement and sentenced to
four years in prison. An international campaign was mounted on his behalf,
and when no evidence was produced, he was given a presidential amnesty
and released. In February 1999, after a car bomb exploded in Tashkent,
he was picked up and taken to an unknown location. He "reappeared"
in May, was tried with little access to a lawyer and sentenced to fourteen
years in prison.
Nadire Mater (Turkey), journalist, writes about Turkish politics including
the Kurdish issue. In 1999, she wrote Mehmet's Book, telling the stories
of soldiers who fought in southeast Turkey. The book was published in April.
A court banned it in June and ordered all remaining copies seized. Mater
is on trial for "insulting the armed forces." If convicted, she
could be sentenced to six years in prison.
Alejandra Matus (Chile), journalist, received her first death threat
after recording a radio program in which she recounted stories that aimed
to give voice to the poor. In 1994, after she published a story that exposed
corruption in Santiago's Military Hospital, complaints were filed against
her for sedition and insulting the Chilean army. She narrowly escaped prosecution
although the reports proved true. She continued political investigations,
including inquiries into the "disappearance" of Chilean citizens
under Pinochet and the murder of former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier.
In 1999, she published The Black Book of Chilean Justice. It was banned
in Chile in April 1999. Facing arrest under a law that criminalizes "insulting"
high government officials, she fled to the United States and was granted
political asylum. She continues to freelance from Miami.
Tshimanga M'Baya (Democratic Republic of the Congo), journalist, is
president and one of five founders of Journaliste en Danger (JED), a non-governmental
press freedom group that exposes and protests abuse and repression of journalists
by the government of President Laurent Kabila. JED members have received
countless anonymous telephone threats, been denounced as "traitors"
in the pay of "imperialists," detained, questioned by intelligence
service agents, and physically attacked.
Shannon McFarlin (United States), former reporter at the Celina Daily
Standard, won first prize for investigative reporting from the Ohio Associated
Press and a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1991 for a year-long series on
the local sheriff that resulted in his resignation and conviction. In 1996,
a new publisher took over management of the paper, and evidently in the
interest of being "more businesslike," he cultivated close ties
with the local establishment. At the time of her firing, McFarlin was working
on a story about possible misuse of public funds by the new school district
superintendent. Before writing the story, she was fired and threatened
with court action if she tried to contact any school official, even as
a private citizen. She was maligned in Daily Standard editorials by the
publisher and the mayor. In an attempt to clear her name, she asked for
and was denied speaking time at a local school board meeting.
Yilmaz Odaba i (Turkey), poet, writer, journalist, is a native of southeast
Turkey. Mr. Obada i was first arrested at age nineteen following the September
1980 military coup and charged with "disseminating separatist propaganda."
He was held for several weeks during which he reported being tortured.
In 1987, he was arrested again, prosecuted for membership in the Socialist
Party, and sentenced to eight years in prison, but the sentence was overturned
by the Turkish Supreme Court. In 1994, he served ten months in prison for
writing about the uprising of Seihk Said. In 1998, he served six months
of an eighteen-month sentence for writing Dreams and Life, a collection
of essays on poetry and culture. In March 2000, he was returned to prison
on a seven-month sentence for "insulting the court," a charge
arising from comments he made while on trial.
Carlos Pulgarin (Colombia), journalist at El Tiempo, a Bogata-based
national daily newspaper. Soon after Pulgarin reported on the assassination
of indigenous activists by right-wing paramilitary forces, he began receiving
death threats accusing him of being a front for the revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia, Colombia's largest guerrilla movement. He spent two
months in hiding, worked anonymously for three months without further harassment,
and then the threats resumed. He was kidnapped and held briefly, so he
fled to Peru where he made great efforts to conceal his whereabouts. But
after a few weeks, he was again receiving threatening messages. The Peruvian
government agreed to provide police protection for a limited period, and
journalist groups arranged for him to go to Spain where he is seeking political
Reach Sambath (Cambodia), journalist for Agence France-Presse, has
been on his own since the age of thirteen when his entire family except
one brother was wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. In the past seven years,
he has covered two elections, the death of Pol Pot, and various human rights
and political issues. He has also been a volunteer journalism teacher in
Svetlana Slapsak (Serbia), university professor, has written fifteen
books on semantics and literature, political essays, and a mock- adventure
novel. She and her husband, a Slovenian, were active in the peace movement,
and when war broke out, Slapsak was branded a traitor and fired. Unable
to find work in Belgrade, she took a part- time job at the university in
Ljubljana where her husband is a professor. She organized a women's group,
"Silence kills; Let's speak up for peace!" This caused two colleagues
to denounce her as a "Serbian spy," and she lost her part-time
position. In 1995, she started a feminist quarterly, ProFemina, in Belgrade.
It has been continually attacked by the state media. Several days after
the NATO bombing began, police seized the building where ProFemina was
located and took all its papers. ProFemina is now registered in Montenegro.
Abdolkarim Soroush (Iran), scholar and a leading proponent of political
reform within the Islamic Republic, is the author of many books on Islamic
philosophy. He has been banned from teaching since 1994. He has received
harassing phone calls, threatening prison if he continues to criticize
the government, and has been subjected to intimidation and physical assault
by conservatives and their supporters. He has periodically been denied
permission to travel to international conferences.
Vu Thu Hien (Vietnam), writer of fiction and film scripts, was arrested
in 1967 and held in prison without trial for eight years. Apparently Vu
Thu Hien's arrest related to his father's disagreements with the leadership
of the Vietnamese Communist Party, his father having been a high ranking
party official until 1963. After Vu Thu Hien's release from prison, he
wrote under a pseudonym, including a novel that won the Vietnam Writers
Association first prize in 1989. All the while, he was under surveillance
by the Cultural Police. In 1993, he fled to Moscow but word that he was
writing a memoir leaked to the Vietnamese Embassy and Hanoi's secret police
searched his apartment. He moved to Poland where he was warned that another
attack was imminent. This forced him to flee and seek political asylum
Pavel Zhuk (Belarus), journalist, has struggled to provide an independent
source of news and analysis in the face of government efforts to silence
all alternative views in Belarus. In November 1997, Svaboda was shut down
by the Lukashenka regime in retaliation for coverage of the political opposition.
Zhuk and his staff continued to produce an Internet version and resumed
publishing in print in January 1998 under a new name, Naviny. In September
1999, after losing a libel suit filed by the head of Belarus' Security
Council, Naviny was forced to close. Police raided Zhuk's home in an effort
to collect the libel fine. He again continued publication via the Internet.
In October the regime suspended registration of nine independent publications,
including Nasha Svaboda which had not yet published its first issue but
was Zhuk's intended replacement for Naviny. Zhuk's coverage of an anti-
government demonstration in mid-October prompted the regime to order tax
inspectors to audit Naviny's advertisers and its printer. The police issued
an arrest warrant for Zhuk who spent several weeks in hiding. International
pressure caused the regime to suspend its pursuit of Zhuk and helped restore
registration for Nasha Svaboda, which as of June 2000 is publishing five
days a week and is posted on the Internet.
* Other recipients will remain anonymous because of the dangerous circumstances
in which they are living.
The Hellman/Hammett grants are announced each spring. In the ten previous
years of the program, more than 400 writers have received grants totaling
nearly two million dollars.
The Hellman/Hammett program also makes small emergency grants from
time to time throughout the year to writers who have an urgent need to
leave their country or who find themselves in desperate financial circumstances
as a result of political persecution.
* Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of
people around the world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent
discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane
conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice. We investigate and
expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable. We challenge
governments and those holding power to end abusive practices and respect
international human rights law. We enlist the public and the international
community to support the cause of human rights for all.
For further information, contact Marcia Allina at Human Rights Watch,
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216 1246, fax: +1 212 736 1300, e-mail: email@example.com, Internet: http://www.hrw.org/
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