Syrian activist Mazen Darwish shares PEN Pinter Award 2014 with Salman Rushdie

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Salman Rushdie has chosen Syrian journalist, lawyer and human rights defender Mazen Darwish to share the PEN Pinter Prize 2014

Rushdie made the announcement at a public event at the British Library this evening, Thursday 9 October. Zaher Omareen, Syrian researcher and writer, formally accepted the prize on behalf of Darwish, who is currently imprisoned for charges of ‘publicising terrorist acts’ under Syria’s Anti-Terrorism Law.

The PEN Pinter Prize was established in 2009 in memory of the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter. The prize is awarded annually to a British writer or a writer resident in Britain of outstanding literary merit, who, in the opinion of the judges, exemplifies the spirit of Harold Pinter through his or her engagement with the times. The British winner shares the prize with an international writer who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety.

Rushdie was named as recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize in June this year by judges Michael Billington, Antonia Fraser, Simon Jenkins, Kamila Shamsie and President of English PEN and Chair of Judges, Maureen Freely.  He accepted the prize this evening at an event at the British Library, at which he also gave an address.

Rushdie chose Mazen Darwish to share the prize from a shortlist drawn up by the English PEN Writers at Risk programme.

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Antonia Fraser, Harold Pinter’s widow, said:

‘There could not be a more appropriate and deserving choice in view of the current situation in Syria, one that speaks directly to the ideals of PEN.’

Salman Rushdie said:

‘Mazen Darwish courageously fought for civilised values – free expression, human rights – in one of the most dangerous places in the world. His continued detention is arbitrary and unjust. He should be freed immediately, and we must hope this award may help, by shining a light on his plight.’

Maureen Freely, President of English PEN, said:

‘During this time when yet again Syria is capturing headlines around the world, we must not forget that creative defenders of free expression are detained and possibly tortured. Particularly at times of conflict we depend on the voices of calm and principled reason’.

Mazen Darwish’s message was read in Arabic to the audience at an event at the British Library by Zaher Omareen.  A translation into English was prepared by Alice Guthrie and read by Jo Glanville, director of English PEN.

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