For the first time in the award’s ten-year history, Amnesty International today (25 August) announced two winners of its prestigious Freedom of Expression Award at the Edinburgh Fringe: Sold, directed by Catherine Alexander at the Pleasance Courtyard and The Wheel, directed by Vicky Featherstone at the Traverse.
The award, given to an outstanding Fringe production carrying a human rights message, in association with Fest magazine, was presented by Amnesty International Scotland Director John Watson. This year saw a record number of entries, with 92 productions nominated.
John Watson said:
“This was a year of firsts for the Freedom of Expression Award: the first time we’d had such a huge number of entries; the first comedian to be shortlisted in Mark Thomas; and our first joint winners, ‘Sold’ and ‘The Wheel’.
“With 92 productions entering for the award it’s perhaps fitting that we have two winners this year. Both are superb productions in quite different ways – but in both cases audiences are confronted with challenging questions about human rights.
“Amnesty marks its 50th birthday this year and protecting the right to freedom of expression has always been at the heart of our what we do. It’s why we’ve always worked so closely with artists and performers and it's why we’re delighted to be giving this award today.”
Judging the award were Joyce McMillan of the Scotsman and Neil Cooper of the Herald newspapers; academic, artist and researcher Stephanie Knight; Sam Friedman of Fest magazine and Amnesty International Scotland Director John Watson. The judging panel said of the two productions:
“The Wheel is a complex and epic story of how Children's rights can be corrupted by the ravages of war. By lurching through the centuries the way it does, it brings home the message that circumstances too often dictate how lives can go off the rails in a brilliantly performed, masterfully directed and profound piece of work that offers no easy answers except hope.”
"Sold is an ambitious, fast-moving show which combines a strong overview of the whole issue of slavery in human society with a series of powerful cameos of individual stories, involving trafficking into this country now. It's a memorable piece of agitprop drama which leaves us in no doubt that despite the increasing exposure of human trafficking in recent years, and widespread political debate on the issue, it is a problem that is not going away; in fact, if anything, it is growing worse, demanding real action from us all."
The other shortlisted productions were: Extreme Rambling (Walking the Wall), by Mark Thomas, at The Bongo Club; and Release, by Icon Theatre at the Pleasance Dome.
Amnesty’s involvement with the world’s largest arts festival is based on the celebration of freedom of expression and fighting for the rights of people whose free speech is denied. Amnesty’s 2011 Edinburgh Festival campaign is for the “UAE 5”, five men detained in the United Arab Emirates and charged with “insulting officials” after calling for democracy and criticising the government.
Amnesty is asking people at the festival to text (SMS) the word “FREEDOM” followed by their name to 81222 to join a petition, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the “UAE 5”, which will be presented to the United Arab Emirates’ embassy in London ahead of their trial, now set for the end of September. Amnesty campaigners are out on the streets of Edinburgh asking people to get involved.
The five men – blogger and political commentator Ahmed Mansoor, lecturer Nasser bin Ghaith and online activists Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq and Hassan Ali al-Khamis - have been detained in the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi since April. In June they were charged under article 176 of the Penal Code, which makes it a crime to publicly insult the country’s top officials. None of the men is known to have advocated any violence or change of government.