The annual Disturbing the Peace Award to a Courageous Writer at Risk recognizes authors of distinguished works of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography, memoire, drama, or poetry who are courageous in dissent and have suffered unjust persecution because of their outspoken defense of democracy and human rights. The award helps provide awardees with the shield of international attention while enriching public understanding of the power of the written word to preserve and promote humanity’s highest ideals.

The short list of nominees for 2024 are:

Söyüngül Chanisheff (Uyghur / China)

Arundhati Roy (India)

Toomaj Salehi (Iran)

Maksim Znak (Belarus)

In addition to individual nominations the following organizations also submitted nominations:

Amnesty International USA

PEN International

Index on Censorship

About the short-listed nominees for the 2024 Disturbing the Peace Award:

Söyüngül Chanisheff, an ethnic minority woman from Xinjiang (East Turkistan), has an extraordinary story of resilience and courage. Born on October 3, 1940, in Urumqi, she pursued medical studies before her life was drastically altered by the Cultural Revolution. Her autobiography, “The Land Drenched in Tears,” recounts nearly 20 years of imprisonment, indoctrination, and violence she faced, and her role in founding the East Turkistan People’s Party. Despite relentless hardships, Söyüngül found solace in the prison camp community and her unwavering faith. Now 79, her English PEN-awarded memoir offers an authentic glimpse into the suffering and hope of an ethnic minority woman, highlighting the plight of Uyghurs and other minorities.

Arundhati Roy, an Indian author and political activist, was born on November 24, 1961, in Shillong, Meghalaya. She gained international acclaim with her novel “The God of Small Things,” which won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997. Despite her literary success, Roy has faced legal challenges due to her outspoken activism. In 2002, she served a symbolic one-day prison term for contempt of court. In 2024, she faced prosecution under anti-terror laws for comments made in 2010 about Kashmir, risking up to seven years in prison. Despite the attacks upon her, Roy remains a prominent and outspoken advocate for human rights and environmental causes.

Toomaj Salehi, an Iranian rapper born on December 3, 1990, is known for his powerful protest songs addressing Iran’s societal issues and government policies. In July 2023, the Iranian Government sentenced him to six years in prison for participating in protests. His ordeal worsened when, on April 24, 2024, he was sentenced to death for charges related to Iran’s 2022–23 Woman, Life, Freedom movement. His lawyer described the judicial proceedings as the strangest and most bizarre he had ever witnessed. Despite these hardships, Salehi remains a powerful advocate for human rights and justice.

Maksim Znak, born on September 4, 1981, in Belarus, is a lawyer, academic, and writer serving a 10-year sentence in a medium-security penal colony on spurious grounds. As the electoral campaign lawyer for opposition candidates Viktar Babaryka and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Znak was arrested on September 9, 2020, and charged with inciting actions aimed at harming national security, conspiring to seize power, and creating an extremist formation. Tried alongside Maryia Kalesnikava, Znak was found guilty and sentenced on September 6, 2021. Despite being held incommunicado since February 2023, his spirit endures through his writings, including “The Zekameron: One Hundred Tales from Behind Bars and Eyelashes.”

The 2024 Disturbing the Peace Award shortlist was prepared by a selection committee whose members are:

Tamar Newberger, computer scientist and activist

Martin Palous, former Czech ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, and president, VHC board of directors

Jessica Ní Mhainín, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Index on Censorship

Lise Stone, vice chair, VHC board of directors

Salil Tripathi, former chair of Pen International ‘Writers in Prison Committee’ and board member, PEN International

Bill Shipsey, retired Barrister, human rights activist and founder and Director of Art for Human Rights, VHC board of directors

Previous winners of the Disturbing the Peace Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk:

2023: Alaa Abd El-Fattah (Egypt)

2022: Andrey Kurkov (Ukraine)

2021: Dmitri Strotsev (Belarus)

2020: Angel Santiesteban Prats (Cuba)

2019: Asli Erdogan (Turkey)

2018: Liao Yiwu (China)

2017: Burhan Sönmez (Turkey)

2016: Ma Thida (Myanmar)

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