Ethiopian human rights blogger scoops prize in memory of Harold Pinter

By Alex Green, PA Entertainment Reporter

An Ethiopian human rights blogger who has been jailed four times over his activism has been awarded a literary prize set up in memory of playwright Harold Pinter.

Befeqadu Hailu was awarded the International Writer of Courage award at the PEN Pinter Prize ceremony at the British Library on Thursday night.

He was handed the gong by this year’s winner of the PEN Pinter Prize, British poet and author Lemn Sissay.

Poet Lemn Sissay (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Hailu said: “I think freedom of writing or freedom of speech is an intermediary path between change and violence. Many writers disdain violence.

“And yet, they write sour truth and encourage audiences to get out of their comfort zone to configure a better world.

“No war, no campaign, has more power than writing to change the world without claiming lives.”

The Zone 9 blogging collective, which Hailu founded in 2012 alongside other Ethiopian activists, aims to hold politicians to account and protect the country’s constitution against corruption.

Playwright Harold Pinter (Fiona Hanson/PA)

Hailu has been jailed four times, on one occasion for a period of 18 months, although he has never been convicted.

He is also the deputy executive editor of Addis Maleda newspaper, a columnist for Deutsche Welle Amharic Service and a part-time programme co-ordinator for the Ethiopian Human Rights Project.

Sissay, 52, an official poet for the London 2012 Olympics, is the latest name to scoop the top prize at the annual event.

Former winners of the PEN Pinter Prize include Half Of A Yellow Sun author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Margaret Atwood, Sir Salman Rushdie, Sir Tom Stoppard and Dame Carol Ann Duffy.