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A Zimbabwean playwright who has repeatedly challenged Robert Mugabe's regime has won the Freedom to Create Prize, awarded by ARTICLE 19 and the artistic philanthropy group ArtVenture.

Cont Mhlanga won the inaugural $50,000 award for his play "the Good President". The politically charged satire depicts an African dictator who has ruled Zimbabwe for 27 years since the country gained independence in 1980.

Mhlanga has been an outspoken critic of Mugabe, and his work has been banned by the regime. According to news reports, Mhlanga has pledged half of his winnings to the Women of Zimbabwe Arise Group, an equal rights organisation.

Speaking from Zimbabwe, Mhlanga said, "I am extremely humbled by the recognition of my work. This award is not just for me, it is for those artists who are victimised for working with me, and it is an award for theatre in this country."

The prize was created to honour artists who defend their freedom of expression at great personal sacrifice.

Second place went to Belarus Free Theatre, an underground project founded in 2005 as an artistic means of resisting censorship. Pakistani-Norwegian singer and human rights activist Deeyah, nicknamed "The Muslim Madonna", was third.

Burmese satirist Zarganar, who was recently imprisoned for 45 years for helping victims of Cyclone Nargis, was awarded the $25,000 Imprisoned Artist Prize.

The $25,000 Youth Prize went to City of Rhyme, a 14-strong hip-hop group from northern Brazil, whose lyrics condemn violence.

See ARTICLE 19 for more information, including media coverage of the awards:

(Photo: Cont Mhlanga)

(7 January 2009)

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