PEN Pinter Prize 2022 winner Malorie Blackman announces Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace as the International Writer of Courage 2022
· Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace is an award-winning academic, activist, and blogger from Bahrain. He has spent over a decade in prison, where he is serving a life-sentence for his role in the 2011 pro-democracy protests.
· In July 2021 he launched a hunger strike to protest his ill-treatment in prison, in particular the confiscation of a manuscript he had been working on for years
· Former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman is the first children’s and YA writer to be awarded the PEN Pinter Prize.
Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace is tonight, Monday 10 October, named as International Writer of Courage 2022. The Writer of Courage is awarded to a writer who is active in defence of freedom of expression, often at great risk to their own safety and liberty. The winner of the PEN Pinter Prize 2022, Malorie Blackman, made the announcement in an address at the British Library this evening, whilst accepting her award. Dr Al-Singace was selected as co-winner by Blackman in collaboration with English PEN’s Writers at Risk Programme.
Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace is an award-winning academic, activist, and blogger from Bahrain. He has spent over a decade in prison, where he is serving a life-sentence for his role in the 2011 pro-democracy protests. In July 2021 he launched a hunger strike to protest his ill-treatment in prison, in particular the confiscation of a manuscript he had been working on for years
The award was accepted on Dr Al-Singace’s behalf by Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), who made a moving speech to guests delivered in Arabic and in English. Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace is a long-standing case of concern to PEN and is among the writers featured in PENWrites, English PEN’s international letter-writing campaign in solidarity with writers in prison and at risk around the world, with many PEN members, supporters and partner organisations having written messages of solidarity to him.
PEN Pinter Prize 2022 winner, Malorie Blackman, said:
‘When I first heard of the plight of Dr Al-Singace – engineer, blogger and activist, I was immediately struck by his commitment regarding effecting change in his homeland, including by highlighting the methods used to supress freedom of expression. He has been incarcerated for over a decade and has been on hunger strike and without solid food for over 400 days, which shines a spotlight on an immensely brave man who defines the word courage.’
Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace
“Be careful when you use the words ‘change’ ‘dream’ and ‘democracy’. Those things don’t come so easily to us.”
From Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace’s Promises Kept, The New York Times, 2 June 2009
Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace is an award-winning academic, activist, and blogger from Bahrain. He has spent over a decade in prison, where he is serving a life-sentence for his role in the 2011 pro-democracy protests.
Prior to his detention, Dr Al-Singace taught engineering at the University of Bahrain, where he was the head of the mechanical engineering department before being removed from the position in 2009 following a trip to Geneva. He holds a PhD in Impact Mechanics from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, now the University of Manchester. He also authored his own blog ‘Al-Faseelah’. According to colleagues at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, the website was blocked by the Bahraini authorities in 2009.
In the summer of 2010, Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace visited the UK to attend a seminar at the House of Lords. During the seminar, Dr Al-Singace described the deteriorating human rights situation in his native Bahrain, speaking at length about the ‘triad of suppression’:
“[There are] three pillars ensuring that activists and NGOs who work on exposing violations are seized and [condemned] somehow, ensuring that they are suppressed. The first is the use of force, torture and ill-treatment. [The] second is the use of the law. And [the] third is the judicial apparatus and procedures.”
On returning home to Bahrain with his family, Dr Al-Singace was arrested at Bahrain International Airport. The official Bahrain News Agency reported that an unnamed security official claimed the arrest was in light of concerns that Dr Al-Singace could ‘damage the country’s stability’ and that he had ‘abused the freedom of opinion and expression prevailing in the kingdom.’
Dr Al-Singace was held incommunicado and in solitary confinement for six months, during which he was reportedly ill-treated: reports suggest that security officials subjected Dr Al-Singace to torture and ill-treatment, including verbal and sexual assault and beatings. A fellow activist has described how distressing it is to revisit footage from the seminar years later, knowing that Dr Al-Singace has since been subjected to many of the forms of torture he described at the House of Lords.
Dr Al-Singace and others on trial with him were freed in February 2011 following widespread calls for political reform and the release of political prisoners. However, he was re-arrested shortly afterwards, on 16 March 2011, after publicising the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, and was later placed under house arrest.
On 22 June 2011, Dr Al-Singace was among 21 opposition activists to be convicted by a special military court following the wave of protests which had swept the country in February and March that year, and in September 2011 the military-run National Safety Court of Appeal confirmed the conviction.
On 30 April 2012 the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial in the case. Dr Al-Singace was sentenced to life imprisonment, a decision confirmed by the High Court of Appeals in the Bahrain Court on 4 September 2012.
In the decade since, the international community, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and leading human rights organisations, has continually raised his case and called for his immediate and unconditional release.
Dr Al-Singace relies on a wheelchair for mobility. He also suffers from post-polio syndrome, heart, eye, and sinus problems. Despite this, prison authorities have frequently denied Dr Al-Singace the specialist medical treatment he requires, often citing his refusal to wear a prison uniform as the reason he cannot attend appointments outside the prison compound. Previously, Dr Al-Singace had also been denied access to books, television, radio, and even pen and paper.
Dr Al-Singace has gone on hunger strike on numerous occasions during his time in detention. In July 2021, he launched his latest hunger strike in order to protest his ill-treatment in prison and the confiscation of a manuscript he had been working on for several years.
After more than a year of refusing solid foods, PEN is seriously concerned for his health and well-being and continues to call for his immediate release. Meanwhile, they continue to work closely with his family and colleagues to call for an improvement to his prison conditions, in particular the return of his manuscript to his family, and are highlighting his case through their international letter-writing campaign PENWrites.