15 January 2016
Held on January 2015 as part of the Writers Unlimited Festival at The Hague, the Oxfam Novib/PEN Awards for Freedom of Expression honoured three courageous writers for their remarkable work in fighting for freedom of expression: Egyptian poet Omar Hazek, Eritrean poet Amanuel Asrat and Turkish writer and journalist Can Dündar.
Jennifer Clement, PEN International president, honoured the courage of the recipients and the host city, stating: 'it’s truly a remarkable experience to celebrate courage in The Hague – a city that has often been the stage for humanity’s most noble hours. Tonight we honour the most exceptional people in a most exceptional city.'
'On this night we celebrate the lives and work of Egyptian poet Omar Hazek who spent over 18 months in prison for a peaceful protest demanding justice for a man killed by security forces, Eritrean poet, journalist and editor-in-chief Amanuel Asrat whose fate has been unclear since his arrest 14 years ago, and Turkish journalist Can Dündar, a member of PEN Turkey, who is in pre-trial detention in connection with his journalism. We also remember Ashraf Fayadh, the Palestinian poet who has been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.'
Poet Omar Hazek who was due to appear at the ceremony, was barred from leaving Egypt on his way to the Hague to receive the award. In his absence, Egyptian writer and activist Alaa Al-Aswany, read Hazek's acceptance speech, which highlighted the bravery of other 'oppressed voices behind Egyptian bars'.
'For almost two years, I went through this cruel ordeal and experienced firsthand what it means to be deprived of one’s freedom, like thousands of political & criminal prisoners, without having a voice that can speak your words of suffering. For them and about them, let me speak for a few minutes... Dear friends, I am really sorry for being out free while you held there, but we will always remain Comrades of Dream and Freedom.' To read the speech in full, click here.
Jung Chang delivered the evenings keynote speech, describing her own experience of hardship and honouring the courage of the winners of the award: ‘When I think on my misfortunes, I feel lucky compared with the three Oxfam/Novib PEN Awardees we celebrate tonight, two of whom are imprisoned, and one who was barred from travelling here. It is for this reason I will now read a poem by Amanuel Asrat, ‘The Scourge of War’, part of which I have translated into Chinese.’
Jung Chang concluded her talk by reading ‘Frida Kahlo’s Moustache' by Ashraf Fayadh, as part of the worldwide readings supporting him in which over 60 PEN Centres took part.
Dilek Dündar, the wife of Can Dündar, accepted the award on her husbands behalf, explaining that he had now spent 50 days in prison. She read a letter he had sent from prison ‘I’m writing this with a pen. I realise now I haven’t used a pen in years. Computers are forbidden here, as are typewriters. From the time I was awarded a red ribbon in primary school, writing has rewarded me. I paid my mortgage through journalism and it was in journalism I met my wife, who’s now reading this to you. Receiving this PEN award for freedom of expression from prison may seem like a dark comedy, although knowledge of all the other writers who’ve been in jail provides me a little comfort.’
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