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Rights Group Honors Commitment to Free Expression

Eight Vietnamese writers are among 48 writers from 24 countries to receive the Hellman/Hammett award on Sept. 14, 2011 (courtesy of Human Rights Watch).

Human Rights Watch is honoring 48 writers in 24 countries for their commitment to free expression and what it describes as courage in the face of persecution.

The New York-based advocacy group on Wednesday announced recipients of the Hellman/Hammett awards of up to $10,000, which are going this year to journalists, bloggers, and novelists, as well as a singer-songwriter and a cartoonist.

Among those awarded was online activist Chiranuch Premchaiport of Thailand, who said governments cannot silence those determined to speak out.

Eight of the grantees are from Vietnam, including Nguyen Xuan Nghia, a writer and leader of the banned pro-democracy group Block 8406. He is imprisoned on a six-year sentence for anti-government propaganda.

Other countries whose citizens were honored include Afghanistan, Angola, Bahrain, Belarus, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan, Thailand and Venezuela. Additional writers were awarded in Malaysia, Singapore, Kazakhstan, DRC, Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan.

The Hellman/Hammett grants were established in 1989 by the trustees of the estate of the late American playwright Lillian Hellman. Human Rights Watch says the grants help writers targeted for expressing views opposed by their governments.

Several of the honors were given anonymously to protect the recipients.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.