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Oxfam Novib/PEN Awards go to Egyptian, Turkish and Eritrean writers

Jennifer Clement (PEN International), Habtom Yohannes (voor Amanuel Asrat), Alaa al Aswani (voor Omar Hazek), Dilek Dundar (voor Can Dundar) en Farah Karimi (Oxfam Novib), Winternachten, 14 januari 2016.
Jennifer Clement (PEN International), Habtom Yohannes (voor Amanuel Asrat), Alaa al Aswani (voor Omar Hazek), Dilek Dundar (voor Can Dundar) en Farah Karimi (Oxfam Novib), Winternachten, 14 januari 2016.

On Thursday 14 January Egyptian writer Omar Hazek, Turkish journalist, writer and filmmaker Can Dundar and Amanuel Asrat from Eritrea receive the Oxfam Novib/PEN Awards for Freedom of Expression. Omar Hazek would have been the only one out of the three winners to be present at this evening, but he was stopped by the authorities in Cairo at the airport. The Egyption writer Alaa Al Aswany will represent him at the award ceremony. Can Dundar has recently been arrested and is emprisoned. He will be represented by his wife, who will read a speech written by her husband. The Eritrean Amanuel Asrat has been in prison since 2001 and will also be represented. The Oxfam Novib/PEN Awards are annually awarded to writers and journalist who, despite difficult circumstances, write freely, at the risk of their own lives and freedom.

The Oxfam Novib/PEN Award will be presented during the Opening Night of the international literature festival Writers Unlimited Winternachten, on Thursday 14th of January at 20:00, Theater aan het Spui, Spui 187, The Hague. The opening speech will be held by British-Chinese writer Jung Chang, whose world-famous book 'Wild Swans' was banned in China. After the award ceremony there will be a debate about intentions gone wrong when confronted with injustice, like for example censorship. In the panel will be Dutch writer Renate Dorrestein, Dutch newspaper Volkskrant journalist Toine Heijmans, Egyptian writer and Award winner Omar Hazek and Jennifer Clement (chair of PEN International).

About the Award winners

Omar Hazek's publications comprise of a collection of poetry in Arabic and English. After president Mubarak's resignation Hazek came out with accusations of corruption at the library of Alexandria, where he was working at the time. He was arrested in December 2013 for illegal protests. He was protesting to get attention for the trial on the occasion of blogger Khalid Said's death. Said was beat to death in 2010 and became the symbol for the Egyptian revolution. Omar Hazek was sentenced to two years of prison and was released last September due to a presidential pardon.

The Turkish writer, journalist and filmmaker Can Dundar is one of Turkey's most famous media personalities, and is currently in remand due to espionage charges. Dundar, who is editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, was arrested last November together with his editor-in-chief colleague in Ankara. Dundar has written for several newspapers, produced many television programs and published over twenty books. Right before his arrest, his newspaper had just received an award from Reporters Without Borders for publicly defending and supporting press freedom.

The poet and songwriter Amanuel Asrat is one of the most renowned Eritrean poets from the beginning of the 21st century. In his work he talkes about various topics, ranging from everyday life of those who are less well-off to war and peace. He was editor-in-chief of the newspaper Zemen, which was known for focussing on art and literature, and he was also one of the most renowned art critics of his time. Asrat was arrested in September 2011, together with several editors-in-chief from independent newspapers in Eritrea. He is still imprisoned in a maximum-security prison.

About the Oxfam Novib/PEN Awards

The Oxfam Novib/PEN Award is a collaboration between Oxfam Novib and PEN. International writers association PEN (Poets, Editors, Essayists, Novelists) dedicates itself to persecuted writers. There are a number of awards granted each year. The Oxfam Novib/PEN Award has previously been given to Duong Thu Huong (Vietnam), Anna Politkovskaya (Russia), Hrant Dink (Turkey), and last year to the Libyan writer, activist and journalist Razan al-Maghrabi. The Hague being the international city of justice, peace and safety makes for the most logical place to give out this Award.

About Writers Unlimited Winternachten
Connecting writers with each other and with audiences, across borders of cultures and countries. That is the mission of Writers Unlimited. In an annual festival (Winternachten festival) and monthly events in The Hague (Writers Unlmited The Series), and in tours across the world (Writers Unlimited Network), Writers Unlimited brings together writers and poets. During those encounters, they exchange - before an audience and amongst each other - their literary work, their experiences, dreams and ideas. In all languages and in all their cultural diversity. These encounters are celebrations of the word, feasts of discovery and recognition, with an open eye for everything that globalisation means for society.

published on: Friday 15 January 2016