Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent

The Havel Prize celebrates those who bravely unmask the lies of dictatorships by living in truth.

The Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent was founded in 2012 with the support of Dagmar Havlová, the widow of the late poet, playwright, and statesman. Václav Havel was chairman of HRF from 2009 until his death in December 2011. The Havel Prize Laureates receive an artist’s representation of the “Goddess of Democracy,” the iconic statue erected by Chinese student leaders 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. Each year’s laureates also share a prize of 350,000 Norwegian kroner.

The Havel Prize is funded jointly by grants from the Brin Wojcicki Foundation and the Thiel Foundation. The Brin Wojcicki Foundation was established by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, and Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe, a leading personal genetics company. The Thiel Foundation, established and funded by entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, defends and promotes freedom in all its dimensions: political, personal, and economic. The Havel Prize is awarded with kind permission of The Dagmar and Václav Havel Foundation VIZE 97.

The 2018 laureates are underground group Belarus Free Theatre and South Sudanese hip hop musician and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal.

The 2017 laureates were Zimbabwean actor and activist Silvanos Mudzvova, Venezuelan satirical media project El Chigüire Bipolar, and Bahraini poet Aayat Alqormozi.

The 2016 laureates were Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani and Uzbek photojournalist Umida Akhmedova.

The 2015 laureates were the Sudanese nonviolent resistance movement Girifna, Indonesian stand-up comedian Sakdiyah Ma’ruf, and Cuban graffiti artist and activist El Sexto.

The 2014 laureates were Turkish protestor and performance artist Erdem Gunduz, Russian punk rock protest group Pussy Riot, and Tibetan documentary filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen.

The 2013 laureates were Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat, North Korean democracy activist Park Sang Hak, and Cuban civil society group the Ladies in White.

The 2012 laureates were Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Saudi women's rights activist Manal al-Sharif, and Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Scroll down for more information on these laureates.

2018 Laureates

The 2018 Havel Prize laureates are as follows:

Belarus Free Theatre

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.

Emmanuel Jal

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.

2017 Laureates

The 2017 Havel Prize laureates are as follows:

Silvanos Mudzvova

Silvanos Mudzvova is a Zimbabwean actor, playwright, and activist known for challenging the country’s dictator, Robert Mugabe, in daring theatrical productions. Silvanos works with the protest group Tajamuka (“We are rising up”) and serves as the director of Vhitori Entertainment Trust, a theater group created to protest Zimbabwe’s democracy crisis, human rights abuses, and poor governance. Silvanos has directed several controversial performances including “The Final Push,” a political satire; “Missing Diamonds, I Need My Share;” a play on corruption in the diamond industry; and “Protest Revolutionaries,” a play that encourages Zimbabweans to plan their own Arab Spring. Silvanos has been detained and arrested several times. To avoid government persecution, Silvanos now performs what he calls “hit-and-run” performances in public spaces. Silvanos has been awarded an Artist Protection Fund (APF) Fellowship and is currently in-residence for this at The University of Manchester.

El Chigüire Bipolar

El Chigüire Bipolar is a Venezuelan satirical media project created in 2008 by Elio Casale, Oswaldo Graziani, and Juan Andrés Ravell. The website, most famous for mocking former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, is often described as a mix of the Onion and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. El Chigüire Bipolar’s popularity in Venezuela grows as the government increases pressure on independent news outlets.

Aayat Alqormozi

Aayat Alqormozi is a Bahraini poet who uses her craft to advocate for the equal rights of Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, and to express her opposition to Bahrain’s monarchy. In 2011, Aayat recited poetry during a protest at Pearl Square as a part of the Bahraini uprising. In response, she was expelled from university and imprisoned for “insulting the King and encouraging hatred of the ruling regime.” Nevertheless, Aayat’s poetry and peaceful defiance have made her a symbol of resistance against the al-Khalifa regime.

2016 Laureates

The 2016 Havel Prize Laureates are as follows:

Atena Farghadani

Atena Farghadani was a prisoner of conscience of the Iranian regime. She received a 12-year prison sentence for a cartoon she posted on social media depicting Iran’s parliamentarians with animal heads. Farghadani was charged with “colluding against national security,” “spreading propaganda against the system,” and “insulting members of the parliament.” When she was briefly released in 2015, Farghadani publicized the abuse that prisoners suffer in Iranian jails and was promptly put back behind bars. Farghadani then went on hunger strike and suffered a heart attack while in prison. Her case sparked the social media campaign #Draw4Atena, with cartoonists from all over the world sharing their work in support of her case. Farghadani was released on May 3, 2016.

Umida Akhmedova

Umida Akhmedova is a photojournalist and the first female documentary filmmaker in Uzbekistan. She specializes in subjects that have historically been regarded as taboo in the country: gender, poverty, and ethnic issues. In 2009, she was charged with "damaging the country's image" after she published a series of photos about life in rural Uzbekistan. The following year she produced the documentary "The Burden of Virginity," which focused on the challenges faced by women in Uzbekistan. She was charged with slander but was released under amnesty in honor of the anniversary of Uzbek independence. Akhmedova has been charged two more times since 2009. She is currently creating a series of self-portraits in front of political banners to bring attention to the role of visual propaganda in Uzbek life.

In May of 2016, Petr Pavlensky was named one of the laureates of the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent. The Prize was withdrawn after Mr. Pavlensky announced his intention to dedicate the prize (and its monetary award) to an insurgent group in eastern Russia and then explicitly endorsed the use of violence as a valid method to combat government oppression. An explanation of the Committee's deliberations and decision are contained in its letter to Mr. Pavlensky:

2015 Laureates

The 2015 Havel Prize Laureates are as follows:


Girifna, Arabic for “we are fed up,” is a nonviolent resistance movement founded in 2010 by pro-democracy youth activists. Thousands of Girifna members work together to monitor state crackdowns on protests and defend dissidents. Girifna members are a constant target of Omar al-Bashir’s decades-long dictatorship, and continue to play an important role in Sudan.

Sakdiyah Ma'ruf

Sakdiyah Ma’ruf is a stand-up comedian from Indonesia whose comic routine advocates for individual rights and challenges Islamic fundamentalism. She grew up watching U.S.-based comedians and decided to use the same medium to talk about issues plaguing her own country. Television producers have asked her to censor her jokes, but Ma’ruf, who believes comedy mirrors a culture’s hypocrisy, has refused to be silenced.

El Sexto

Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado is a Cuban graffiti artist and activist whose public work has subjected him to ongoing repression and imprisonment at the hands of the Castro dictatorship. A target of the Cuban government, he has been detained numerous times for his protest art. In December 2014, El Sexto was arrested on his way to put on a performance art piece called “Animal Farm,” inspired by George Orwell’s satire, with two pigs decorated with the names “Fidel” and “Raúl.” El Sexto was charged with contempt and imprisoned for 10 months without a trial. He was finally released on October 20, 2015, following pressure from international human rights groups.

2014 Laureates

The 2014 Havel Prize Laureates are as follows:

Erdem Gunduz

Erdem Gunduz, known as the “Standing Man,” is a performance artist who rose to prominence during the 2013 anti-government protests in Turkey. After Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan issued a ban on demonstration in Istanbul, Gunduz stood silently on the sealed-off Taksim Square for more than six hours, even as Turkish police tried to provoke a response from him. Unfazed, Gunduz continued his silent protest and was joined by hundreds of others, becoming a powerful symbol of the movement.

Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot is a Russian punk rock protest group of women who don colorful balaclavas and perform in public places to draw attention to the abuses of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Their music and impromptu concerts are a form of "dissident art" created to support individual liberties in the face of an increasingly authoritarian Russian state. Pussy Riot was represented in Oslo by Maria Alyokhina and Nadezha Tolokonnikova, who served 21 months in Russian prison camp for performing a protest song in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

Dhondup Wangchen

Dhondup Wangchen is a Tibetan filmmaker imprisoned by the Chinese dictatorship on charges of subversion after producing the documentary “Leaving Fear Behind.” The film features interviews with ordinary Tibetans discussing the Beijing Olympics, the Dalai Lama, and the Chinese Communist Party. Dhondup was sentenced to six years in prison for producing the film, despite calls for his release by international human rights organizations. While in prison, his health deteriorated dramatically and his family alleged that he was denied proper medical care. Dhondup Wangchen was finally released on June 5, 2014, but he remains unable to travel outside of China. His wife, Lhamo Tso, accepted the prize on his behalf during the ceremony at the 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum.

2013 Laureates

The 2013 Havel Prize Laureates are as follows:

Ali Ferzat

Ali Ferzat is a Syrian political cartoonist known for his satirical caricatures. Ferzat's cartoons became increasingly critical of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the brutality of the regime's crackdown. In 2011, masked gunmen detained Ferzat and broke both of his hands and his fingers, a clear message of intimidation and retaliation for his work. Ferzat recovered from the attack and continues to produce political cartoons.

Park Sang Hak

Park Sang Hak, a North Korean defector and human rights activist, has worked for the democratization of his homeland since a daring escape in 1999. He is the chairman of Fighters for a Free North Korea, an organization that uses helium balloons to transmit human rights and pro-democracy literature, DVDs, USB drives, and transistor radios from South Korea into North Korea.

The Ladies in White ("Las Damas de Blanco")

The Ladies in White (Las Damas de Blanco) is a Cuban civil society organization founded by the wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners jailed during the Castro regime's "Black Spring" crackdown in 2003. The Ladies wear white to symbolize their commitment to nonviolence. Despite repeated arrests and beatings by Cuban authorities, the group marches every Sunday in Havana to protest the lack of human rights under the Castro dictatorship. Berta Soler has led the group since the death of founder Laura Pollán in 2011. Soler accepted the award on the group's behalf.

2012 Laureates

The 2012 Havel Prize Laureates are as follows:

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and political activist, known for his installations, sculpture, architecture, photography, and for his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government's abuse of human rights and democracy. For his work, Ai has been detained, fined, harassed, and is constantly under surveillance.

Manal al-Sharif

Manal al-Sharif is a Saudi women’s rights activist and is one of the primary organizers of the Women2Drive campaign, which advocates for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia. Al-Sharif garnered international attention after posting a video on YouTube of herself, driving, in an act of civil disobedience. In retaliation, the Saudi government detained al-Sharif and charged her with “disturbing public order" and “inciting public opinion." She was released nine days later, after an international campaign on her behalf.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese pro-democracy opposition leader and an iconic former prisoner of conscience of the Burmese military dictatorship. She is the general secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma. Released from house arrest in 2010, Suu Kyi was elected to Burma's parliament in 2012 and is leading a nationwide push against the dictatorship. Although unable to leave Burma to attend the 2012 Oslo Freedom Forum to receive her prize, she accepted the award at the San Francisco Freedom Forum in 2012.