PEN Canada/Ken Filkow Prize awarded to Raihan Abir

Raihan Abir. Photo: Chris Thomaidis.

After death threats in Bangladesh, Abir continues to fight for free expression from Canada

Author and blogger Raihan Abir will receive the PEN Canada/Ken Filkow Prize at the PEN Canada benefit at the International Festival of Authors, October 22.

Introduced in 2014 in memory of PEN’s Canadian Issues Committee member and former Chair of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, Kenneth A. Filkow, the annual award is presented to an individual or institution in Canada who has shown courage in opposing restraint on freedom of expression and ideas.

Abir, co-author of The Philosophy of Atheism, left Dhaka in June 2015 after the murders of his colleague Avijit Roy, his editor Ananta Bijoy Das, and other secular writers and activists associated with the freethinking website Mukto-Mona.

With the help of PEN Canada, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and Centre for Inquiry Canada, Abir and his pregnant wife, Samia Hossain, applied for asylum in September 2015. After his immigration hearing in November, attended in solidarity by PEN Canada member Rohinton Mistry, Abir was granted refugee status.

Despite continuing death threats Abir has continued to speak out against religious fundamentalism and seek justice for his murdered friends and colleagues. Abir has given a voice to the victims of religious violence and blasphemy legislation, speaking openly with Canadian media and consulting with government officials.

“With a list of really good candidates, the committee’s deliberations were nevertheless brief and our choice of Raihan was unanimous,” said Canadian Issues Chair, Elise Moser. “He has demonstrated tremendous courage and integrity in defense of freedom of expression.”

Abir now lives in Toronto with his wife and young daughter, Sophie.

The PEN Canada/Ken Filkow Prize is valued at $1000, and will be presented to Abir by Filkow’s son-in-law, Brian Borzykowski. The prize is funded by Philip Slayton and Cynthia Wine.