Norwegian PEN awarded Ossietzky prize 2012 to musician and rights activist Deeyah

Norwegian PEN, the world’s largest writers and free expression organisation, has awarded this year’s Ossietzky prize to Norwegian-Pakistani singer, music producer, composer, film maker and human rights activist Deeyah.

Deeyah, a critically acclaimed music producer and award winning human rights activist, is known for her outspoken support of women’s rights, freedom of expression and peace. 

She was born in Oslo in 1977 and was signed as an artist by a record company at the age of 13. Her talent was recognized from a young age and her first solo album was released in 1992. The album was a fusion of Pakistani classical sounds with modern influences and received broad critical acclaim. 

At this point, however, the Norwegian-Pakistani community criticized her family’s encouragement of her musical career. The community felt it was inappropriate for a young Muslim woman to perform music. Her family continued to support her despite increased pressure and violent threats due to her growing presence in the media because of her music. Eventually, Deeyah faced these threats directly when several men tried to abduct her from school grounds to “talk to her”. A year later Deeyah was attacked on stage and sprayed with pepper gas during a live performance.

At age 17, after continued harassment and fearing for her family and personal safety, Deeyah left Norway for the United Kingdom.

Musician and human rights activist

Deeyah continued working as a music artist and collaborated with a multitude of artists, musicians and producers across musical genres from Pakistani folk to North Indian Classical, to Western jazz, electronica and chart pop music.

However 2006 Deeyah stopped performing, instead turning her artistic focus to producing music and film making. She started creating projects that combine her passion for art and activism as she continued to broaden her artistic expression into film-making and digital media initiatives, driven by her commitment to human rights and social activism.

As an activist Deeyah has spent most of her life creating projects that ventilate topics often ignored or considered uncomfortable while also being a staunch supporter of marginalized voices. She founded Sisterhood, an ongoing project designed to empower young Muslim women by encouraging artistic expression across creative disciplines. In collaboration with Freemuse she co-produced the critically acclaimed Listen To The Banned album which features artists from Asia, Africa and the Middle East who have experienced persecution, censorship or imprisonment for their artistic expression. 

She established the non-profit charity AVA which is an arts and multimedia-based educational organisation created to work for freedom of expression and human rights. The primary goal of AVA is to support and encourage voices from the margins while addressing the forms of oppression and the solutions needed particularly connected to women and young people from ethnic minorities.

She now runs FUUSE which is her social purpose music, arts and Film Company founded in the intersection between art and activism. Through FUUSE she has just produced and directed her first internationally acclaimed documentary Banaz: A Love Story, addressing the phenomenon of honour klilings within immigrant communities in Europe.

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The Ossietzky prize is Norwegian PEN’s prize for outstanding achievements within the field of freedom of expression and is awarded annually on 15 November, the international Day of the Imprisoned Writer. The prize will be awarded at a ceremony at the House of Literature in Oslo.

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