Stella Nyanzi was announced the winner of the Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award 2020 on January 16, 2020.
PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, the PEN Emergency Fund and Oxfam Novib each year give the Oxfam Novib/PEN International Free Expression Award to writers who continue to work for freedom of expression in the face of persecution. The award is given in recognitions of writers’ significant contribution to freedom of expression around the world and as a distinction to writers and journalists committed to free speech despite the danger to their own lives. Previous winners of the Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression include Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, Eritrean poet and writer Amanuel Asrat, Honduran activist Dina Meza and Cameroonian journalist Enoh Meyomesse.
The Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression 2020 was awarded to prominent Ugandan academic, writer and feminist activist Stella Nyanzi. A medical anthropologist by training, Dr. Nyanzi has published widely in the academia on topics at the intersections of culture, health, law, gender and sexualities. She is an ardent writer on social media where she comments and debates about contemporary social-political occurrences, and she writes poetry, mainly on social media. She is an outspoken activist on women’s rights and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex peoples. In 2017, she launched the #Pads4girlsUg Project, a campaign to raise money to buy and distribute sanitary pads for schoolgirls in Uganda.
She is also known as a fierce, public critic of Uganda’s president and a practitioner of “radical rudeness”, a traditional Ugandan strategy for unsettling the powerful through the tactical use of public insult. Dr. Nyanzi is currently serving an 18-month sentence for ‘cyber harassment’, in relation to a poem she wrote on Facebook in September 2018 criticising President Museveni (and his mother).
“Stella Nyanzi has been deemed a criminal by the Ugandan authorities because she has criticised those at the highest echelons of power; though her words might be colourful and shocking to some, this is not enough to justify the imposition of penalties, and public officials should tolerate a higher degree of criticism than ordinary citizens. At PEN we believe unshakeably in the need for writers to be able to criticise, parody, and mock at the highest levels. This award recognises the work she has done for women, civil society, and in the defence of free expression. We will continue to amplify her voice until she is released,” Jennifer Clement, PEN International president.