Mongolian dissident writer wins Hellman/Hammett Grant

7 January 2013

Ms. Huuchinhuu Govruud, also known as Gao Yulian, a Southern Mongolian dissident writer, activist, and member of a banned organisation called the Southern Mongolian Democratic Alliance, won the prestigious Hellman/Hammett Grant for 2012, being one of 41 recipients from 19 countries.

Ms. Huuchinhuu Govruud

In early November 2010, Huuchinhuu was arrested by the Chinese authorities for rallying the Mongols via the Internet to cheer for the scheduled release of Mr. Hada, a prominent, Southern Mongolian political prisoner and President of the Southern Mongolian Democratic Alliance. After nearly two years of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial detention, Huuchinhuu has been placed under house arrest in one of her relatives’ residencies in Southern Mongolia’s Tongliao Municipality. She is denied the right to communication including Internet, phone access and postal service; additionally, she is monitored by the authorities around the clock.

On 28 November 2012, Huuchinhuu was tried behind closed doors and pronounced guilty by the Tongliao Municipality People’s Court for “providing state secrets to a foreign organisation,” according to her defense lawyer. Lacking legal basis and solid evidences, the authorities have accused her of “leaking state secrets” for circulating some publicly available information through the Internet.
Advocating freedom of speech
As a popular dissident writer in Southern Mongolia, Huuchinhuu has authored several books and hundreds of essays on ethnic problems and human rights issues of the Mongolian people in China to criticise oppressive Chinese ethnic policy in Southern Mongolia. Her books include ‘The Stone-Hearted Tree’, ‘Silent Stone’, and ‘Journey’; all titles have been banned and confiscated from bookstores by the Chinese authorities.

Since the late 1990s, Huuchinhuu has been actively advocating freedom of speech, press, and association — especially through the Internet — on behalf of the Mongols in Southern Mongolia. She volunteered to help administer a number of Internet discussion forums, created by Mongolian students and intellectuals, including,, and All three forums have been shut down by the Chinese authorities for “posting separatist content” and “discussing ethnic problems.”

In order to further control and silence her, the verdict claims that “due to the minor nature of the criminal act committed” the “punishment is pending temporarily,” although the Article 111 states that the crime of “stealing, gathering, procuring or unlawfully providing state secrets or intelligence for an organ, organization or individual outside the territory of China” is punishable up to five years in jail to life in prison. Huuchinhuu is preparing to appeal to a higher court against the current court decision.
Recognition of efforts to promote free expression
Huuchinhuu is the third Southern Mongolian winner of the Hellman/Hammett Grant. The two other winners, awarded in 2011, were Mr. Hada and Mr. Tumenulzei Buyanmend. The application for the grant was filed by the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center on behalf of Huuchinhuu.

The Hellman/Hammett Grant is bestowed to writers “in recognition of their efforts to promote free expression despite the government persecution of their work,” according to the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch. The Hellman/Hammett grants are given annually to writers around the world who have been targets of persecution as a result of their work. A distinguished selection committee awards the cash grants to honour and assist writers whose work and activities have been suppressed by repressive government policies.

The grants are named for the American playwright Lillian Hellman and her longtime companion, the novelist Dashiell Hammett.

Human Rights Watch – 20 December 2012:
China: 12 Win Prestigious Free Speech Prize
Hellman/Hammett Award Honors Writers Facing Persecution
Human Rights Watch – 20 December 2012:
Writers Honored for Commitment to Free Expression
41 Facing Persecution Win Hellman/Hammett Grants



Persecuted artists

A glance through the long list of biographies of the 2012 Hellman/Hammett Awardees in itself is a report about journalists, writers and artists who currently are being persecuted in various countries around the world. Here is an excerpt of biographies of poets, writers and artists who are on the list:


Bertrand Teyou (Cameroon)
Bertrand Teyou was jailed in November 2010 for writing a book highly critical of the first lady of Cameroon, after previously writing a book critical of Cameroon’s president. Unable to pay the substantial fine demanded for his release, he spent six months in Douala’s New Bell prison, known for its horrible conditions. A news conference for his previous book l’Antécode Biya: Au coeur d’un pays sans tête was banned in Douala, and Teyou was later charged with attempting to disturb the public order, among other crimes, for “his involvement in the publication of a statement calling for demonstrations and strike to protest the high price of fuel.” Teyou has left Cameroon due to the persecution, and lives in Mexico City, where he continues to suffer serious health problems resulting from his imprisonment.

Silvanos Mudzvova (Zimbabwe)
Silvanos Mudzvova is a well known playwright, director, and actor in Zimbabwe. His work typically centers on issues of human rights, poverty, and governance, encouraging the poor to work for a change of government. His latest play, Protest Revolutionaries, portrays activists, students, farmers, and street vendors to show that all citizens have the power to have their voice heard.
Zimbabwe government officials have labeled Mudzvova and his plays “subversive,” arrested him numerous times, and confiscated his laptop and unpublished scripts. After death threats he went into exile for four months, but has returned to Zimbabwe and continues to produce work despite the highly repressive environment.

Zaw Thet Htwe (Burma)
Zaw Thet Htwe has been a prominent poet, screenwriter, editor, journalist, and activist in Burma for more than 20 years. His poems have appeared in Burmese magazines and abroad since 1996, and were published in a collection called Mann-chaung La-Yaung (Moonlight on Mann Stream). He has been continually involved in social activism, including 1988 prodemocracy demonstrations, a student political party, and raising funds for victims of HIV/AIDS and Cyclone Nargis and alms for monks taking part in the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
Zaw Thet Htwe was arrested in 2003 and charged with treason for his collaboration on a sports journal that employed many former Burmese political prisoners. Upon his release from prison in 2005, he organized arts and poetry events attended by many leading political activists. Zaw Thet Htwe was arrested again in 2008 and sentenced to 11 years in prison after being found guilty of violating Burma’s Electronic Transactions Act for “disaffection toward state and government” in his use of the internet to publish his work. He was released in January and is deeply involved in current efforts to improve media freedom

Wang Lihong (China)
Wang Lihong became a full-time human rights defender after retiring as a government employee in 2008. She writes poetry, open letters, and online commentary advocating for rights of women, the poor, homeless, and other victims of social injustice in China. In October 2010, Wang was detained for eight days along with other activists for celebrating Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize. She wrote about the experience in a series of poems entitled Eight Days, in which she expresses solidarity with other prisoners being held by Chinese authorities for their peaceful activism. In 2011, Wang was detained and subsequently arrested for organizing a protest in defense of three “netizens” (online activists) on trial in Fujian province. She was tried and found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and was sentenced to nine months in prison.

Putu Oka Sukanta (Indonesia)
Putu Oka Sukanta, born in 1939, is a Balinese and Indonesian poet and novelist. He was a journalist in his youth and active in a leftist artists’ association during the Sukarno era. Beginning in 1966 he was detained for a decade based on his writings and associations, and subjected to beatings and starvation. Despite the inhumane prison conditions, he learned acupuncture and herbal medicine from fellow prisoners.
After his release in 1976, he supported himself as an acupuncturist and herbalist, and published many poems, storie, and novels through alternative and international publishers because he was rejected by mainstream publishers. He has also written many books on traditional medicine and acupuncture, continues to write on the events of 1965-66, and, working with young Indonesian filmmakers, has produced six documentary films on those events.



Hila Sedighi (Iran)
Hila Sedighi is a well known young poet and artist in Iran, active in literary and cultural activities since childhood. She founded a club to help preserve Iran’s national historical and cultural heritage, and became an active campaigner in local and national elections in 2005. She wrote and recited poetry in response to the severe repression that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election. She was arrested and interrogated by the Iranian authorities, apparently only because of her poetry, and given a “postponed” sentence of four months in prison.

Ahmed Mansoor (United Arab Emirates)
A writer, poet, blogger, and human rights activist, Ahmed Mansoor has been a voice for political reform and respect for human rights in the United Arab Emirates for many years.
His blog, Muwatan Emiriati Maghloub `Ala Amrih (Helpless Emirati Citizen), has been a credible source for many human rights organizations, covering critical issues such as the UAE’s draft media law, freedom of expression and arbitrary detention, as well as topics especially controversial within the UAE context such as the rights of stateless citizens (Bidoons), state corruption, and political reform. He cofounded the Emirati online political forum UAE Hewar, blocked by Emirati authorities since February 2010. Mansoor also published a book of Arabic poetry in 2007, and has published numerous intellectual articles, short stories, and poems in Arabic-language periodicals.
Mansoor has initiated several citizen petitions to high UAE officials. His last petition, published on March 9, 2011, called for constitutional changes in the Emirates and free elections for all citizens, precipitating a campaign of online harassment and intimidation, and eventually Mansoor’s arrest on April 8, 2011. Accused of offenses including “instigation, breaking laws and perpetrating acts that pose threat to state security,” “undermining the public order,” “opposing the government system,” “insulting the President, the Vice President and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi,” “inciting others to break the law,” “calling for an election boycott,” and “calling for demonstrations,” he was held for eight months in detention without bail.
The UAE’s Federal Supreme Court sentenced Mansoor to three years in prison on November 27, 2011 and although the UAE president commuted his sentence on November 28, his conviction still stands. In September 2012, he was assaulted twice on the street by people with apparent knowledge of his movements. The government continues to withhold his passport, which kept him from appearing at a side event at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, although he spoke by video conference.
Read more: Biographies of 2012 Hellman/Hammett Awardees [Microsoft Word document]

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