Persecuted Writers Honored with Prestigious Awards

27 Writers from 20 Countries
Receive Hellman/Hammett Grants

A diverse group of writers from 20 countries have received Hellman/Hammett grants in recognition of the courage with which they faced political persecution, Human Rights Watch announced today.

Among the recipients is Daniel Bekoutou whose reports played a key role in the international effort to hold Chadian dictator Hissène Habré accountable for crimes against humanity committed under his rule. The Hellman/Hammett awards also recognize Maria Petreu for her outspoken criticism of extreme right ideology in Romania and Esmat Qaney whose writings have been burned and banned by successive Afghan regimes.

Each year, Human Rights Watch presents Hellman/Hammett grants 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 $175,000.

In many countries, governments use military and presidential decrees, criminal libel, and sedition laws to silence critics. Writers and journalists are threatened, harassed, assaulted, or jailed merely for providing information from nongovernmental sources. 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 2001 follow.

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Bui Ngoc Tan (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. In 1968, he was arrested as a “revisionist and antiparty element” and imprisoned without trial from 1968 to 1973. After his release, he wrote stories and novels but was banned from publishing and had to earn his living as a laborer. In 1995, he was permitted to publish again. Nhung Nguoi Ranh 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, are mildly critical of the ruling regime. In 2000, he published Chuyen Ke Nam 2000 (Story Told in Year 2000), a denunciation of the communist detention policy. This book was too much for the censors; it was recalled and burned. He has undergone numerous interrogations and is now under surveillance.

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