Detained Syrian rights activist Darwish honored with PEN award

Thu Oct 9, 2014 3:02pm EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - Novelist Salman Rushdie, winner of the PEN/Pinter award, shared the honor on Thursday with Syrian free-speech campaigner Mazen Darwish, who has been detained for two years, and called for his immediate release.

It is a tradition of the PEN/Pinter Prize, named in memory the late playwright Harold Pinter, who was an ardent advocate of human rights, that the winner, announced in June, shares it with "an international writer of courage".

"Mazen Darwish courageously fought for civilized 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," Rushdie said in a statement released in advance of a ceremony held at the British Library.

Darwish, who according to the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists was arrested on Feb. 16, 2012, faces charges of "publicizing terrorist acts" under Syria's anti-terrorism law, English PEN said in a statement. If convicted, he faces a prison sentence of up to 15 years, it said.

English PEN said Darwish's lawyers have challenged the jurisdiction of Syria's Anti-Terrorism Court and have cited procedural irregularities in relation to the arrest, including the absence of an arrest warrant.

It said there were "widespread fears" that Darwish and others arrested with him may have been tortured and ill-treated, in order to extract a confession. There has been no official investigation into the allegations, it added.

Syrian researcher and writer Zaher Omareen will collect the award on Darwish's behalf, English PEN said.

English PEN is a worldwide writers' association. Its members work to promote literature and to defend free expression.

The PEN/Pinter prize is awarded annually to a British writer or writer living in Britain, who promotes or defends freedom of expression.

(Reporting by Michael Roddy; Editing by Susan Fenton)