Oxfam Novib/PEN International 2019 award for freedom of expression announced

The 2019 Oxfam Novib/PEN International Awards for Freedom of Expression have been awarded to Nicaraguan author and journalist Gioconda Belli, Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour and Italian writer and journalist Roberto Saviano.

Each year the award is given in recognitions of writers’ significant contribution to freedom of expression around the world to writers and journalists committed to free speech despite the danger to their own lives.


Clockwise from top left: Dareen Tatour, Gioconda Belli, Madeleine Thien, Roberto Saviano

Gioconda Belli is an award-winning Nicaraguan poet, writer and activist and President of PEN Nicaragua. She has faced accusations of terrorist activity and writes under great risk in Nicaragua, a country in which over three hundred people were killed in protests against President Ortega’s government last year.

Dareen Tatour was released from prison in Israel last September, having been held under house arrest since October 2015. The charges against her were related to a video in which she recites one of her poems “Resist, my people, resist them.” After several years under house arrest and several months in prison, Tatour was finally released in September 2018.

Roberto Saviano, who could not attend the ceremony, has written extensively on organised crime in Italy and across borders. He has faced death threats for years and travels with bodyguards appointed by the Italian government and lives much of his life in hiding. 

The award ceremony, held as part of the opening night of the Writers Unlimited festival at The Hague, was attending by Dareen Tatour and Gioconda Belli. Introducing the award, writer and PEN International president said:

So often the recipients of the Oxfam Novib/ PEN Award cannot be here and this is the case tonight for the Italian journalist and anti-mafia author Roberto Saviano who lives most of his life in hiding, fearful of assassination. The award we’re giving tonight, at this important festival where the word is celebrated, acknowledges the extraordinary bravery of those who write and speak truth to power in spite of great danger.’

Booker prize shortlisted novelist Madeleine Thien delivered the Free the Word! keynote address: 

We are in uncertain times. Asking questions of any orthodoxy is increasingly unacceptable, even in places we imagine to be free. And for some, even many, access to what others might consider ordinary or even banal, is forbidden. Across the political spectrum, fear has mixed with scorn. We seem to insist on – and even take pride in – our atomization, and to deny our contingency, our brevity, our shared future. But if we are not free to hear divergent points of view, we are not free.

For more information about the award click here.