Ethiopian writer, activist and co-founder of blogging platform Zone 9 Befeqadu Hailu has been named International Writer of Courage at the PEN Pinter Prize ceremony.
The winner of the PEN Pinter Prize for 2019, Lemn Sissay, made the announcement at the British Library tonight (Thursday 10th October).
Hailu said: “I think freedom of writing or freedom of speech is an intermediary path between change and violence. Many writers disdain violence. And yet, they write sour truth and encourage audiences to get out of their comfort zone to configure a better world. No war, no campaign has more power than writing to change the world without claiming lives.”
Hailu co-foundedthe award-winning Zone 9 Blogging Collective, creating a platform for individuals to speak out against human rights violations taking place in Ethiopia. As part of this effort they have conducted four major online campaigns which called for the Ethiopian government to respect the constitution. Hailu is also the Deputy Executive Editor of Addis Maleda newspaper, a columnist for Deutsche Welle Amharic Service, and part-time programme coordinator for the Ethiopian Human Rights Project.
Hailu has been jailed four times for his blogging and activism engagements, on one occasion for a period of 18 months. However, he has at no point been convicted of charges brought against him. Hailu continues to work tirelessly to bring about change for his country. For his efforts, he – with Zone 9 bloggers - has been awarded Committee to Protect Journalists’s International Press Freedom Award 2015, RSF Award for Citizen Journalists 2015, Hellman/Hammet Human Rights Award 2015 and was a Martin Ennal’s Award finalist for Human Rights Defenders in 2016.
Sissay was chosen as the recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize 2019 by this year’s judges: writer, translator and chair of English PEN Maureen Freely; culture correspondent at The Economist Fiammetta Rocco and author Niven Govinden, in June. The judges said: “in his every work, Lemn Sissay returns to the underworld he inhabited as an unclaimed child. From his sorrows, he forges beautiful words and a thousand reasons to live and love. On the page and on the stage, online or at the Foundling Museum, this is an Orpheus who never stops singing.”