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Norwegian PEN to honour Palestinian journalist on Day of the Imprisoned Writer

(Norwegian PEN/IFEX) - Oslo, 12 November 2009 - Norwegian PEN's Ossietzky-prize for "outstanding achievements within the field of free expression" will be awarded to Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer during the commemoration of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. The prize will be awarded at an evening event at the House of Literature in Oslo on 16 November. Norwegian PEN will also award its first honorary prize to its former president, translator Kjell Olaf Jensen. During the event, the newly arrived "writer of refuge" in the city of Oslo, Kenyan writer Philo Ikonya, will read from her own texts.

The program for the event also includes a short lecture by Mohammed Omer, speeches to the prize recipients by editor Alf van der Hagen (Omer) and Norwegian PEN president Anders Heger (Jensen), as well as an account covering the five writers to be focused on during this commemoration, by the chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of Norwegian PEN, Trine Kleven.

Mohammed Omer (25) is a Palestinian journalist who has written for the Norwegian weekly Morgenbladet and worked for the Norwegian People's Aid in Gaza. He also writes for international media, including the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Electronic Intifada, The Nation, and Inter Press Service. In 2008, Omer was awarded the 2007 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. In the award citation, Omer was honored as "the voice of the voiceless" and his reports were described as a "humane record of the injustice imposed on a community forgotten by much of the world."

While traveling back from the prize ceremony in London to the Gaza Strip, Omer reported that he was stripped to his underwear, humiliated and beaten by Israeli soldiers. He was subsequently hospitalized upon his return to Gaza, where it was discovered that Omer had sustained several broken ribs and various bodily contusions as a result of the ordeal. He is now undergoing medical treatment in the Netherlands.

Prior to the prize ceremony in Oslo, Omer was on a tour of the U.S., lecturing about his experiences and the situation in Gaza at such high-ranking universities as Harvard and MIT.

Kjell Olaf Jensen (63) is a translator and critic and former president of Norwegian PEN for more than ten years. For almost two decades he has been at the forefront in the defence of the free word, both in the media and as a lecturer - in dialogue with the authorities and cooperating with other organizations, local and international. During this period he also contributed effectively to the renewal of International PEN. Jensen has also been a member of the boards of the Norwegian Association of Literary Translators and Amnesty International Norway.

Philo Ikonya is an author, human rights activist and President of Kenyan PEN. She was recently arrested and subsequently released for taking part in a peaceful protest about hyperinflation. Philo Ikonya has been threatened and harassed and can no longer live and work in her home country. She is now a "cities of asylum" writer in Oslo.

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