Headlines, Human Rights, North America

RIGHTS: African, Iranian Writers Dominate Persecution Awards

WASHINGTON, Jul 14 1999 (IPS) - Journalists from Africa and Iran dominated special prizes awarded this year to writers persecuted for their political beliefs, by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Out of 32 writers who received the 1999 Hellman-Hammett Awards, 14 were from African countries – including three from Nigeria – five hailed from Iran, four from Vietnam and two from Burma.

Award-winners also included Fabio Castillo, an investigative journalist at ‘El Espectador’ in Colombia; Recep Marasli, a prolific writer on Kurdish rights and culture in Turkey; and Algerian Khilida Messaoudi, a well-known feminist activist and essayist who has been outspoken in defence of women’s rights during the ongoing civic violence.

Eleven persons could not be named due to possible retaliation, according to HRW. They included writers from Belarus, Cameroon, China, Eritrea, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, and the four winners from Vietnam.

Additionally, a U.S. winner – a lesbian author – asked not to be named at this time due to difficulties she could face in obtaining employment, said HRW spokeswoman Marcia Allina.

The 10-year-old grant programme, funded by the combined estates of US authors Lillian Hellman and Dashiel Hammett, provides up to 10,000 US dollars for needy writers who have been subject to political persecution.

Total grants this year came to 170,000 dollars. Grantees each received between 2,000 dollars and 8,000 dollars.

Four of the five Iranian award winners worked with liberal print media, which were closed down or subjected to attack by right-wing forces.

Hamid-Reza Jalei-Pour was the publisher of two newspapers – ‘Jameh’ and ‘Tous’ – closed by clerical authorities during the past year.

Last September, Jalei-Pour, and two other staff members who won the prize – Seheed Ebrahim Nabvi and Masahallah Shamss-Ol-Vaezin – were arrested and charged by the Iran’s Revolutionary Court for publishing articles “against security and general interests.”

Akbar Ganji, editor of the newsweekly ‘Rah-e No,’ was held in incommunicado detention for three months after he gave a speech criticising the government. Although he was released last year, ‘Rah-e No’ was closed, and he could be taken back into custody at any time, HRW said.

A fifth Iranian, Hojatolesam Mohssen Saeidzadeh, a former judge who has published numerous newspaper articles attacking discrimination against women as a violation of Islamic law, was arrested last June and held for four months without charge. After his release, his status as a clergyman was rescinded and, last October, the government’s Culture and Islamic Guidance ministry refused to allow the publication of his latest book, ‘Freedom of Women During the Time of Mohammed.’

The three Nigerian recipients of the grant were all victims of the military regime headed by the late Gen. Sani Abacha.

Along with his colleagues from ‘The News’ of Lagos, Akinwumi Adesokan was first detained by the authorities in 1993 before his release one week later. On returning from a fellowship abroad in late 1997, he was detained again, interrogated and held incommunicado for two months.

Lanre Arogundade, whose outspoken opposition to military rule in Nigeria, dated back to the early 1980’s, had been arrested three times during the past year on unsupported allegations ranging from gun running to association with illegal organisations.

He was arrested a fourth time last April on a murder charge but was freed on bail. Arogundade denied the accusation and a trial date still remained to be set.

Niran Malaolu was arrested in Dec 1997 at the offices of the independent newsweekly ‘Diet’ where he worked as an editor. Convicted of “information gathering” and “implication in an alleged coup plot,” he was sentenced to life in prison.

After Abacha’s death in June 1998, the sentence was reduced last July to 15 years, and he was finally released in April. In prison, however, he was refused medical care, and contracted typhoid fever and another infection that threatens his eyesight, according to HRW.

In Burma, prize-winner Aung Htun – an activist in the Aug 1988 uprising against the military regime – spent four years in prison, including periods of torture and in solitary confinement, during the early 1990’s.

He was arrested again in March 1998 and is currently serving a 15- year prison term for writing a seven-volume history of the Burmese student movement.

The other Burmese awardee, Paschal Khoo-Thwe, was a student leader who fled Burma, emigrated to England, and won first prize for creative writing in English, his third langague, at Cambridge University.

He now works as a cook in London to support himself while he continues to write, according to HRW.

Besides Nigeria, other African countries with prize-winners, included Niger, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Swaziland.

In Niger, Gremah Boucar, who heads the Anfani group that includes a newspaper, a magazine, and three radio stations, was kidnapped fro his home in mid-1998 and threatened to death and has since been rested and detained half a dozen times.

Radio Anfani has been ransacked or occupied by soldiers at least twice since 1996, the last time in May, 1998 when Radio Anfani broadcast a petition condemning government efforts to intimidate the press.

Goretti Mapulanga, a news anchor on state television, and her husband Cornelius were fired from their jobs in Nov 1997 after interviewing Zambian President Frederick Chiluba. Unable to find work, the Mapulangas have since been under constant surveillance, and Goretti and her children have been harassed in public by unidentified people, said HRW.

Modeste Mutina Mutuishayi, editor and managing director of the independent daily, Demain L’Afrique,’ and also the head of a non- governmental organisation engaged in public education, has suffered repeated detentions and harassment by security agents under the regime of DRC President Laurent Kabila.

In war-torn countries of West Asia, Alex Redd, who was abducted and tortured by Liberian government security forces in Dec 1997 in connection with his investigation of the murder of a prominent oposition politician, was given political asylum in the United States last year.

A winner from Sierra Leone, Alieu Sheriff, also fled here after repeated detentions in the early 1990’s in both his homeland and Gambia for critical reporting about the governments of both countries.

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