The academic, activist and blogger Abduljalil al-Singace from Bahrain has been named this year’s international writer of courage by Malorie Blackman. Al-Singace is serving a life sentence in prison for his role in Bahrain’s 2011 anti-government protests.
The award is part of the PEN Pinter prize, which goes to an author deemed to have fulfilled Harold Pinter’s aspiration to “define the real truth of our lives and our societies”. This year’s PEN Pinter winner was Blackman, the first children’s writer to be awarded the prize. She chose al-Singace as the international writer of courage, an award for an author who has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs, with whom she will share her prize.
In July 2021, al-Singace went on hunger strike to protest against his mistreatment in prison, which included the confiscation of a manuscript he had been working on for years.
“When I first heard of the plight of Dr al-Singace … I was immediately struck by his commitment regarding effecting change in his homeland, including by highlighting the methods used to suppress freedom of expression,” Blackman said. “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.”
Prior to his detention more than a decade ago, al-Singace taught engineering at the University of Bahrain. He also authored his own blog Al-Faseelah. According to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, the website was blocked by the Bahraini authorities in 2009.
In the summer of 2010, al-Singace visited the UK to attend a seminar at the House of Lords, during which he described the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain.
“[There are] three pillars ensuring that activists and NGOs who work on exposing violations are seized and [condemned] somehow, ensuring that they are suppressed,” he said at the seminar. “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 his way home, al-Singace was arrested at Bahrain international airport, apparently in light of concerns that the academic could “damage the country’s stability”.
Al-Singace and others on trial with him were released in February 2011 after widespread calls for political reform. However, he was rearrested in March and sentenced to life imprisonment in June.
“Be careful when you use the words ‘change’ ‘dream’ and ‘democracy’”, al-Singace wrote in the New York Times in 2009. “Those things don’t come so easily to us.”
Al-Singace’s international writer of courage award was accepted on his behalf by Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. After more than a year of refusing solid foods, PEN is seriously concerned for al-Singace’s health and wellbeing and continues to call for his immediate release. Meanwhile, the human rights organisation continues to call for an improvement to his prison conditions, in particular the return of his manuscript to his family.