Claudia Anthony, one of the few female Sierra Leonean journalists to have made a name in print journalism is among a number of courageous journalists that won awards recently. Claudia used to work for For Di People newspaper. She now lives in Berlin, Germany.
On Saturday 19 November, during the Crossing Border Festival in The Hague, The Netherlands, Wim de Bie, a famous Dutch TV personality and web "blogger", presented this year’s Novib / PEN awards. The awards, granted each year by NGO Novib and the International PEN Emergency Fund to persecuted writers, go this year to writers from Tunisia, Swaziland, Sierra Leone and Vietnam.
Each year one of the award winners is invited to come to the Netherlands to collect the award personally. This year it was collected by the Tunisian journalist Sihem Bensedrine at a ceremony proceeded by readings and interviews with writers and performers ds. Gremdaat, Mies Bouhuys Moris Farhi, Bhajju Shyam, Gita Wolf and Sirish Rao, and concluded with a musical performance by Ino.
This is the fifth annual Novib and PEN Emergency Fund award. Tunisian journalist Sihem Bensedrine is awarded as editor of the online magazine Kalima (http://www.kalimatunisie.com), alongside her colleague, the writer and academic Om Zied (Neziha Rejiba). Both are well known for their "fight" for freedom of the press in their country and as a result both are continuously watched by the police and also suffer intimidation. The Kalima website is blocked by the authorities and is only accessible outside the country. The struggle for freedom of expression was put into the international spotlight during the World Summit on Information Society, held 16-18 November in Tunis, where participants were able to witness first hand the repression of independent civil society activists.
Also receiving awards that day with Bensedrine and Om Zied, were Sarah Mkhonza, a writer and academic forced out of Swaziland after a campaign of harassment against herself and her family; Claudia Anthony, a journalist for the independent For di People, as well as other newspapers, forced to flee Sierra Leone because of her reporting; and the eminent Vietnamese writer, Duong Thu Huong, who was detained in the early 1990s and who has since lived under restriction and who faces difficulty in publishing in her own country. The award comes with a grant of 2,500 Euro but more important than the financial support is the moral support that the award implies.
The Netherlands shares first place in the 2005 Reporters sans frontières World Press Freedom Index (alongside Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway and Switzerland). These countries offer writers and journalists the best possibilities to, for example, speak critically about their governments. However in many countries, in the best case, writers are prohibited in publishing any criticism of their governments. In the worst case they are put in jail, in dire conditions where they can be tortured or denied medical care.
"The term ’freedom of opinion-expression’ can be discussed freely in the Netherlands", says Wim de Bie, who handed over the awards on Saturday. "In many other countries one cannot even mention freedom of opinion-expression. Therefore I am very honoured to announce the names of those who have dared to do so nevertheless."
The PEN Emergency Fund has been helping persecuted and abandoned writers since the 1970s. The Fund grants one off money amounts to writers who are imprisoned and in need because of their writings. NGO Novib (Oxfam Netherlands) is one of the organisations that make the activities of PEN Emergency Fund possible.
For further information, contact Sara Whyatt, at the WiPC, International PEN, 9/10 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London EC1M 7AT, U.K., tel: +44 207 253 3226, fax: +44 207 253 5711, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Internet: http://www.internationalpen.org.uk
Photo: Claudia Anthony.