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First shortlisted entries announced for Amnesty Fringe Award as judges applaud record number of entries

Amnesty International today (12 August) announced the first two shortlisted entries for its Freedom of Expression Award at the Edinburgh Fringe, which will be given to an outstanding play carrying a human rights message.

Speechless, playing at the Traverse Theatre, portrays the extraordinary story of identical twins June and Jennifer Gibbons. A joint production by Shared Experience and Sherman Cymru, (2008 Winners of Amnesty’s Award with Deepcut) it is adapted from Marjorie Wallace’s “The Silent Twins”. Refusing to speak to adults, the twins communicate in their own private language, their only relationship being their intense and turbulent bond with each other.

No Child is playing at Assembly on George Street. A joint production by Barrow Street Theatre and Scamp Theatre, written and Performed by Nilaja Sun and directed by Hal Brooks, the play explores the New York City public school system.

John Watson, Amnesty International's Scottish Programme Director and one of the Award judges, said:

"Speechless combines top notch production values with an incisive exploration of how the constant drip-drip of racism can alienate people psychologically and eventually drive them to a violent and destructive reaction. This production tears apart the veil of complacency in a society which made use of incomers rather than welcoming them, congratulating itself on its tolerance while failing to understand the true nature of equality and respect."

Joyce McMillan, columnist and theatre critic, and one of the Award judges, said:

"No Child is a terrific piece of theatre, and very powerful in its exploration of education as an inalienable human right and the one that really sets people free. A fine theatrical performance that got an instant standing ovation, No Child forcefully demonstrates how fragile the right to education can be when educators are disrespected and under-funded."

Judges noted the record number of entries this year for the award, with 64 productions entered for the award, underlining the power of the performing arts to engage with challenging human rights stories.

John Watson added:

“We’re delighted that so many productions have chosen to focus on human rights issues at the Fringe this year. Theatre can really transport an audience and give them a new understanding of someone else’s situation. Getting people to think ‘what if that happened to me?’ is a first step towards involving people in our campaigns for human rights.

“The link between Amnesty and the arts is made all the more real this year because we’re campaigning for a jailed performer. Zarganar was banned from the stage in Burma for his political comedy and then jailed for 35 years when he criticised the government in interviews. We want to get everyone in Edinburgh behind our campaign to free him and many other Burmese prisoners.”

Entries are visited by Amnesty reviewers and a panel of professional theatre critics. The eventual winner will be announced at a special awards event on 26 August. The Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award is presented in association with The Fest magazine.

Recent winners of the Freedom of Expression Award include ‘Palace of the End’ by Judith Thompson, ‘The Container’ by Clare Bayley and ‘The Exonerated’ by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. A total of 61 productions entered for the award in 2009.

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. This year the organisation is campaigning for Zarganar, who is one of Burma’s biggest comedians as well as a writer, musician, poet and film-director. He is currently serving a 35-year jail sentence for speaking out against the government. People can take action for him at

Zarganar - whose name means ‘tweezers’ in Burmese - founded his own comedy troupe which performed satirical plays and sketches poking fun at the government. He has made numerous films, some of which have been banned in Burma. In 2006, he was excluded from the entertainment world by the authorities for an indefinite period, following an interview he gave to the BBC, criticising the regulations imposed by the junta on performances during a festival in Burma.

Amnesty will be out on Edinburgh’s streets this year asking festival-goers to take their own stand for freedom of expression, in solidarity with the people of Burma, by having their photo taken with the name of Zarganar, or one of many other Burmese prisoners that Amnesty is campaigning for, written on their hand.

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