- Six African journalists from The Gambia, Cameroon, Congo Kinshasa (DRC), Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, have been among 45 writers from 22 countries in the world to be honoured with a prestigious human rights awards.
The prestigious Hellman/Hammett grant, administered by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, is given in recognition of the courage demonstrated by persecuted writers all over the world.
The honoured writers are Musa Saidykhan (The Gambia), Njaru Philip (Cameroon), Pierre Mujomba (Democratic Republic of Congo), Peter Makori (Kenya), Zakeus Chibaya (Zimbabwe) and Gilbert Rwamtwara (Rwanda).
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. Since then, over 500 writers have been awarded with Hellman/Hammett.
"The Hellman/Hammett grants aim to help writers confront and survive persecution," said Marcia Allina, who coordinates the Hellman/Hammett grant program.
Ms 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.
Generally, most of this year's awardees have become victims of either presidential and military decrees, criminal libel and sedition laws to silence them. They have been harassed, assaulted, indicted, jailed on trumped-up charges, or tortured merely for providing information from non-governmental sources.
Some of this year's recipients have asked to remain anonymous because of possible continuing danger to them and their families, Hellman coordinators announced in a statement.
One of the awardees, Musa Saidykhan, wrote and edited at several publications before becoming Editor-in-Chief of 'The Independent' in April 2005. Within a month, a printing ban was imposed and the paper was forced to close. In June 2005, it reappeared using a photocopying format.
Government authorities opposed to its editorial stance put Mr Saidykhan under surveillance. In October 2005, he was detained and interrogated for having invited South African President Thabo Mbeki to support an investigation into the killing of a journalist and arson attacks on some Gambian private media.
Mr Saidykhan's most brutal run-in with the government came in March 2006, when he was arrested and detained for 22 days without charge. During this time, he was held in solitary confinement, deprived of family visits and tortured. After release, he fled with his family to exile.
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