Three Iranians are among those awarded Hellman/Hammett grants by Human Rights Watch for 2012. Issa Saharkhiz, Keyvan Samimi and Hila Sedighi are among 41 winning writers from 19 countries.
According to Human Rights Watch, the grants are given to people “for their commitment to free expression and the courage they showed when facing political persecution.”
The Hellman/Hammett grant program was set up in the name of Lillian Hellman and her companion Dashiel Hammett. During the McCarthy era, the two writers were aggressively interrogated by U.S. congressional committees about their political beliefs and affiliations. Hellman was blacklisted and had difficulty finding work, while Hammett was even imprisoned.
Hellman had left provisions in her will to start such a program, and in 1989, Human Rights Watch was asked to set up the program to help writers around the world who are persecuted for expressing their views.
The three Iranian winners of the grant this year -- Issa Saharkhiz, Keyvan Samimi and Hila Sedighi -- were arrested after Iran’s controversial 2009 election, which led to mass protests and a severe government crackdown on all who challenged the legitimacy of the results.
Biographies of 2012 Hellman/Hammett Awardees:
Isa Saharkhiz is a veteran journalist in Iran who has consistently voiced his criticism of the government crackdown against reformists, particularly in stifling media freedom in Iran. He helped establish the Golden Pen award for journalists, and is a founding member of the Society for the Defense of Freedom of the Press (SDFP), an organization that opposes censorship and the suppression of journalists in Iran. On the day after Iran’s disputed presidential election in June 2009, security forces raided Saharkhiz’s home, threatened his daughter, and seized computers and personal notes. He was subsequently summoned to court but refused to appear. He was arrested on June 20, 2009, and has remained in prison since, with gravely deteriorating health.
Keyvan Samimi is an Iranian journalist and human rights activist. He was the editor-in-chief of the banned newspaper Nameh and has blogged on the banned site Kharabaat. He was also a member of the Society in Defense of Press Freedom, the Committee to Pursue Arbitrary Arrests, and the Committee to Defend the Right To Education. Security forces arrested him in June 2009 after they broke into his house in the middle of the night and confiscated his personal belongings. Judiciary officials accused Samimi of propaganda against the state, conspiring against national security, participating in post-election protests, and issuing statements questioning the validity of the election results. Subsequently, Iran’s Judiciary sentenced Samimi to six years in prison on these national security charges and a lifetime ban from any journalistic, social, and political activity, though the ban was later reduced to 15 years. Samimi had been serving his sentence in Ward 350 of Evin prison until September 2012, when prison authorities transferred him to a solitary cell in Rajaei Shahr prison outside of Tehran. Although he suffers from various ailments, including a liver tumor and arthritis, officials have repeatedly denied him medical leave.
Hila Sedighi is a well known young poet and artist in Iran, active in literary and cultural activities since childhood. She founded a club to help preserve Iran’s national historical and cultural heritage, and became an active campaigner in local and national elections in 2005. She wrote and recited poetry in response to the severe repression that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election. She was arrested and interrogated by the Iranian authorities, apparently only because of her poetry, and given a “postponed” sentence of four months in prison.
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