Exiled Syrian author wins literary courage award

Oct 9 (Reuters) - Syrian journalist and writer Samar Yazbek,who was forced into exile after criticising President Basharal-Assad, has won PEN's Pinter International Writer of CourageAward.

Yazbek, who fled her homeland late last year after repeatedrun-ins with the state security services, was recognised for herbook, "A Woman In The Crossfire", an account of the early stagesof the Syrian revolution.

In line with the late playwright Harold Pinter's Nobelspeech in which he spoke of casting "an unflinching, unswervinggaze upon the world", the prize is awarded annually to a writerwho has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs.

"The great thing about this prize is that it highlightsfigures who might not otherwise get the recognition theydeserve," Heather Norman Soderlind, Deputy Director of EnglishPEN, told Reuters.

Yazbek insists, though, that while grateful for the honour,she doesn't see this as a personal accolade. "I felt that beyondme this was a prize for the Syrian Revolution," she said.

But with recognition comes responsibility, and Yazbek seemsvery aware of the potential pitfalls posed by her increasedacknowledgment by international community.

"It places a certain weight on you," she told Reutersthrough an interpreter at Free Word House in London's Farringdondistrict. "It does give me more influence outside Syria, and itmay give me more recognition inside Syria."

But despite having met former French Foreign Minister AlainJuppé in April to discuss an alternative Syrian opposition, sherejects "utterly" the possibility of assuming an active role inthe Syrian opposition.

"I'm not a politician. I don't want to play a politicalrole; I'm a writer. I'm with the revolution and I'm part of it,and so I defend it."

Yazbek insists that the international media are ignoring theplight of the Syrian people-- "the people of the revolution aredying silently," she said.

As a consequence, despite having fled to France with herteenage daughter, she continues to regularly and secretly sneakback into Syria over the Turkish border.

Contrary to perceptions in the West, Yazbek maintains thatthe Syrian Revolution has not devolved into sectarian conflict."We're all still in this together," Yazbek says, herself amember of President Assad's Alawite clan.

Last night, in a ceremony at the British Library, she waspresented with a cheque and prize by Lady Antonia Fraser, ahistorian and Harold Pinter's widow.

Unlike a number of past winners, Yazbek was able to receiveher award in person.

In a measure of the sort of life many Pinter prizerecipients live, last year's winner, Roberto Saviano, who writeson the Italian mafia, said he was unable to travel as he wouldnot have received police protection in Britain.

(Reporting By Peter Schwartzstein, editing by Paul Casciato)