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.
Human Rights Watch describes Issa Saharkhiz as “a veteran journalist in Iran who has consistently voiced his criticism of the government crackdown against reformists, particularly in stifling media freedom in Iran.” Shaharkhiz has been in jail since 2009, and his health is reportedly deteriorating gravely.
Keyvon Samimi is another journalist and human rights activist who, according to the rights organization, has continuously defended freedom of speech and the right to education for all. Charged with propaganda against the regime, Samimi is currently serving a six-year sentence and he has been in Evin Prison since 2009.
Hila Sedighi is a young Iranian poet who, according to Human Rights Watch, was arrested and interrogated by the Iranian authorities after the 2009 election protests for her poetry and has been given a “postponed” sentence of four months in jail.