Writers Honored for Free Expression Commitment

12 writers from China are among the 41 who received Human Rights Watch’s 2012 Hellman/Hammett grants “for their commitment to free expression and their courage in the face of persecution”. The organisation suggested that the presence of so many writers from one country reflected “especially severe repression of free expression”.

The grants are named for the American playwright Lillian Hellman and her longtime companion, the novelist Dashiell Hammett. Both were both questioned by US congressional committees about their political beliefs and affiliations during the aggressive anti-communist investigations inspired by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Hellman suffered professionally and had trouble finding work. Hammett spent time in prison.

In 1989, the trustees appointed in Hellman’s will asked Human Rights Watch to devise a program to help writers who were targeted for expressing views that their governments oppose, for criticizing government officials or actions, or for writing about subjects that their governments did not want reported.

[…] A concentration of grantees in certain countries points to especially severe repression of free expression by those governments. Twelve of this year’s grantees come from the People’s Republic of China; four of them are Tibetan and remain anonymous for security reasons. Five grantees are from Vietnam, four from Ethiopia, and three from Iran.

In addition to the four anonymous and imprisoned Tibetans, the honorees include one ethnic Mongolian, Huuchinhuu Govruud, and two Uyghur writers, Memetjan Abdulla and Gulmire Imin. Wang Lihong, Qi Chonghuai, Huang Qi, He Depu and Sun Wenguang also received grants. Profiles of all the named writers are available at HRW.org.

See also the November edition of Words without Borders magazine, which focused on banned Chinese writers and is still available for free.