PEN American Center today named Ali Al-Domaini, a leading Saudi literary figure who is one of three prominent intellectuals currently imprisoned for criticizing the pace and reach of human rights reforms in Saudi Arabia, and Deyda Hydara, a newspaper publisher and press freedom champion who was gunned down in December 2004 for challenging increasingly restrictive press laws in the Gambia, as recipients of its 2005 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards. The awards, which honor international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression, will be presented at PEN’s Annual Gala on April 20, 2005 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
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Ali Al-Domaini is a prominent writer whose works include three collections of poetry and a novel. On March 15, 2004, he and eleven other leading Saudi intellectuals were arrested for criticizing the newly-established National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) and for planning to set up their own human rights organization.
Shortly after the arrests, a Ministry of the Interior official reportedly announced that the twelve jailed for criticizing the NCHR were suspected of issuing “statements which do not serve the unity of the country and the cohesion of society… based on Islamic religion.” Eight of the detainees were subsequently released, but Al-Domaini and two other leading intellectuals remained in prison and were charged, reportedly after refusing to sign a document renouncing their political activism. Al-Domaini is accused by the authorities of threatening national unity, doubting the independence of the Saudi judiciary, organizing meetings and justifying violence, among other charges.
After many postponements, the three are still awaiting trial in “The Kingdom”.