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Annual Awards Given to Journalists Pursuing Freedom of the Press


An advocacy group for journalists has announced the winners of its International Press Freedom awards. Among those being honored at a presentation in New York City today are journalists from Brazil, China and Uzbekistan.

The CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists, says these are dangerous times. CPJ Director Ann Cooper says, in places such as Iraq, Russia and the Philippines, journalists have been accused of being enemy collaborators, hunted down, kidnapped or killed.

"It's astonishing for me to hear these stories and to realize these journalists still get up everyday and go out and do their jobs despite the huge risks they're taking," she said.

In May of this year, Uzbek government troops opened fire on protesters in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijan.

Galima Bukharbaeva, an outspoken journalist who has drawn international attention to Uzbekistan's authoritarian rule, was interviewing demonstrators when government troops began shooting. She says a bullet tore through her backpack, piercing her notebook and press pass.

"At that moment, I just had this animal fear,” she recounted. “I have never been scared like that."

The Uzbek government lists the death toll at 169 but independent reports says as many as 1,000 protesters were killed in the "Andijan massacre" as it has come to be known.

Ms. Bukharbaeva, who was branded a traitor by her government, fled the country and now lives in the United States. She says the award reinforces her reasons for being a journalist.

"Without independent journalist the society can not develop. I understand now well because without objective reporting, people will not know what is happening and if they do not have information they cannot react, they cannot act. That's why it's so important, if we will not do this, nothing will change," said Ms. Bukharbaeva.

But writing about change and political reform on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre led to a 10-year prison sentence for Chinese journalist Shi Tao. CPJ Asia coordinator Abi Wright says the former newspaper editor was arrested last year on charges of "leaking state secrets abroad".

Ms. Wright provided this account of the precipitous event: "For writing an e-mail and sending it to someone in New York City."

China imprisoned 42 journalists last year, more than half of them for work that was distributed on the Internet. Ms. Wright says Mr. Shi's arrest highlights China's intense efforts to control information on the Internet.

"They want to enjoy the economic benefits of the Internet, of that growth, of that sort of e-commerce and yet they are clearly terrified of the potential that it has to harness independent thinking and reporting and journalism among its population," said Ms. Wright.

Other awardees of this year's Press Freedom Awards include Brazilian newpaper editor Lucio Flavio Pinto who exposed stories about government corruption; and Beatrice Mtetwa, a media lawyer who defends press freedom in Zimbabwe.

A posthumous award will also be given to former "ABC World News" anchor Peter Jennings for his coverage of major events in a career that spanned over four decades.

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