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Jailed Saudi Women Receive PEN Writing Award

FILE - Demonstrators from Amnesty International hold placards outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy to urge Saudi authorities to release jailed women's rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef in Paris, France, March 8, 2019.
Jailed Saudi Women Receive PEN Writing Award
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The literary and human rights organization ​PEN America is honoring three women’s rights activists jailed in Saudi Arabia. The group announced recently that they have won the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

The three are Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Eman al-Nafjan. The Associated Press notes that their arrests last year have been condemned around the world.

Saudi Arabia says the activists were detained for working to “undermine the security” of the country. The detainees have openly opposed government policies that they believe restrict women’s rights.

The PEN award comes at a time of intense international criticism of Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In October 2018, Saudi activist and journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing during a visit to the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Investigators blame Saudi agents for his disappearance. They say Khashoggi was murdered.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council denounced Saudi Arabia’s “continuing arrests and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders.”

PEN has long noted that the Freedom to Write Award has been a way of turning advocacy into action. The group says 37 of the past 43 winners have been freed, at least in part because of the attention raised by the prize.

PEN Center USA 26th Annual Literary Awards Festival
PEN Center USA 26th Annual Literary Awards Festival

“It helped me to survive while I was in prison,” said Ahmed Naji, who won the award in 2016. He had been imprisoned in Egypt. The writer and journalist now lives in Washington, D.C.

PEN officials have not decided who will accept the Freedom to Write Award on behalf of the three Saudi women’s rights activists. The PEN awards ceremony will take place in New York City on May 21.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Hillel Italie reported on this story for The Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

literary - adj. of or relating to literature

undermine - v. to make (someone or something) weaker or less effective

journalist – n. a reporter; someone working in the news media

arbitrary - adj. done without concern for what is fair or right

advocacy – n. the act of supporting a proposal or cause