NEW YORK (April 12, 2018) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is pleased to announce two of the three recipients of the 2018 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent. This year’s laureates include the underground group Belarus Free Theatre and the South Sudanese hip hop musician and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal. Their efforts will be honored in a ceremony during the 2018 Oslo Freedom Forum on Wednesday, May 30. To avoid possible travel restrictions imposed on the third Havel Prize laureate, the final award will be announced in May.
HRF founded the Havel Prize in collaboration with Dagmar Havlová, widow of the late poet, playwright, and statesman Václav Havel. Havel served as the chairman of HRF until his death in December 2011. The prize celebrates those who, with bravery and ingenuity, unmask the lie of dictatorship by living in truth. Past laureates include Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot, North Korean defector Park Sang Hak, and Saudi women’s rights advocate Manal al-Sharif.
Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) was founded in 2005 in response to the severe censorship and repression of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, the last dictatorship in Europe. BFT has staged powerful social and political documentary theater from secret locations (private homes, cafes, and even the woods), characterized by stripped-down performances and topics, including refugees, climate change, torture, and sexuality. According to co-founder and artistic director Natalia Kaliada, "In a country where the state seeks to control every aspect of life, everyone has the potential to rebel in their own way. And a million small acts of rebellion can chip away at even the most entrenched dictatorship.” In April 2017, the company had to postpone a premiere after several members were arrested or injured during large-scale, anti-government protests. BFT is the only theater company in Europe banned by its government on political grounds.
“Belarus Free Theatre defies oppression in its proud celebration of free speech and the arts, bravely defending civil liberties in a Soviet-ruled state,” said Havel Prize Committee Chairman Thor Halvorssen.
Emmanuel Jal is a South Sudanese hip hop artist and a former child soldier of Sudan's brutal civil war that took place between 1983 and 2005. With five critically acclaimed albums, an autobiography, and a documentary to his name, Jal is focused on supporting South Sudanese youth with educational scholarships through his “Survivors of War” program. He founded the charity Gua Africa to work with individuals, families, and communities to help them overcome the effects of war and poverty.
“Emmanuel uses powerful music as a vehicle to spread a message of freedom and hope for a better future in war-torn South Sudan. He inspires people everywhere to stand up for the freedom of others, and in so doing brings people closer together,” said Havel Prize Committee member Garry Kasparov.
The Havel Prize laureates will receive an artist’s representation of the “Goddess of Democracy,” the iconic statue erected by Chinese students during the Tiananmen Square protests of June 1989. Each sculpture embodies the spirit and literal reality of creative dissent at its finest, representing the struggle of truth and beauty against brute power. The laureates will also share a prize of 350,000 Norwegian kroner.