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Thirty-four writers from 19 countries receive Hellman/Hammett grants in recognition of their courage in the face of political persecution

(HRW/IFEX) - The following is a 22 July 2008 Human Rights Watch press release:

Banned, Censored, Harassed and Jailed
34 Writers From 19 Countries Receive Hellman/Hammett Grants

(New York, July 22, 2008) - Thirty-four writers from 19 countries received Hellman/Hammett grants this year in recognition of the courage they showed when facing political persecution, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Hellman/Hammett grants, administered by Human Rights Watch, are given annually to writers around the world who have been targets of political persecution. The grant program began in 1989 when the American playwright Lillian Hellman willed that her estate be used to assist writers in financial need as a result of expressing their views.

"The Hellman/Hammett grants aim to help writers who dare to express ideas that criticize official public policy or people in power," said Marcia Allina, who coordinates the Hellman/Hammett grant program.

Governments have used military and presidential decrees, criminal, libel, and sedition laws to silence this year's group of Hellman/Hammett award winners. They have been harassed, assaulted, indicted, jailed on trumped-up charges, or tortured merely for providing information from nongovernmental sources. In addition to those who are directly targeted, many others are forced to practice self-censorship.

Hellman was prompted by her experiences during the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s, when she and her long-time companion, the writer Dashiell Hammett, were questioned by US congressional committees about their political beliefs and affiliations.

Nearly 700 writers have received grants over the 19 years of the program. The Hellman/Hammett funds, announced each spring, have distributed some $3 million to date. The Hellman/Hammett program also makes small emergency grants to writers who have an urgent need to leave their country or who need immediate medical treatment after serving prison terms or enduring torture.

Some of this year's recipients have asked to remain anonymous because of possible continuing danger to them and their families. Among those are three Iraqi writers and one from Cameroon, China, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Short biographies of those who can be safely publicized and further information can be found on:

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