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Press Freedom Awards Honor Chinese, Brazilian, Uzbek Journalists, Zimbabwean Lawyer

The recipients of the 2005 Independent Press Freedom awards include a jailed Chinese Internet journalist, an exiled Uzbek correspondent and a pioneering Brazilian editor. And for the first time, the independent Committee to Protect Journalists is also honoring a lawyer with its annual award in New York Tuesday.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, gives its annual awards to journalists who put their lives at risk in order to do their jobs. An increasing number of journalists are doing just that, according to the group's director, Ann Cooper. She says media freedom is deteriorating, partly due to the war on terrorism.

"Increasingly, governments see that they can crack down on the press and use the excuse of fighting terrorism to justify their crackdowns," said Ms. Cooper. "Some of them even occasionally accuse journalists themselves of being terrorists or of aiding and abetting terrorism just because they're reporting on terrorist groups or perhaps doing an interview with a leader who the government doesn't want shown on TV or heard on the radio."

Ms. Cooper says the Philippines tops the group's list of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, followed by Iraq, Bangladesh, Russia and Colombia.

"The cycle of violence against journalists in those countries just continues year after year and we've got to break that, not only to save journalists' lives, but to make all journalists in those countries feel that they can go out and report the news without fear of death threats or violent attack," she said.

The New York-based group is honoring Chinese freelance journalist Shi Tao, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for posting notes on an overseas Web site from a government directive on how journalists should cover the 15th anniversary of the Tianamen Square crackdown. The government charged him with "leaking state secrets abroad."

Mr. Shi's case has become an international cause celebre because Internet giant Yahoo helped the Chinese government identify him through his e-mail account.

Uzbek journalist Galima Bukharbaeva faces criminal charges because of her reporting on the killing of hundreds of anti-government protesters in May in the northeastern Uzbek city of Andijan. She is accused of conducting "open warfare against the state."

Ann Cooper says Ms. Bukharbaeva typifies the award winners.

"What we are looking at is journalists who are working in extremely difficult conditions," explained Ms. Cooper. "These are people who we have worked to defend -- are defending -- their right to report the news independently, and that's precisely what Galima has done."

Ms. Bukharbaeva now lives in New York, where she is attending Columbia University's School of Journalism. She says the award shows her jailed colleagues that people care about their plight.

"It is not just recognition of my work as a journalist but also it is recognition of the very hard situation, political and economic situation, in Uzbekistan and also a recognition of the conditions in which journalists in Uzbekistan have to work," she commented.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says the third honorere, Brazilian publisher and editor Lucio Flavio Pinto, faces a constant barrage of civil and criminal lawsuits designed to silence his reporting on corruption, drug trafficking and environmental disaster.

This year the CPJ is also honoring a media lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, for her efforts to defend journalists and press freedom in Zimbabwe. Ms. Mtetwa says she was stunned to find herself so honored, but pleased that the award will help keep the Zimbabwe story in the news.

"There is so much going on in the world now that when you hear nothing from Zimbabwe, because journalists have fled, newspapers have been shut down, people tend to think that things are okay," said Ms. Mtetwa. "But an award like this for me, personally, means that the Zimbabwean story continues to remain at least in the limelight for debate."

CPJ says Beatrice Mtetwa has been arrested, assaulted and threatened as part of a government campaign to intimidate her. Ms. Mtetwa says her motivation is simple.

"I believe very, very strongly that without media freedom it is really impossible to enjoy any of the other fundamental freedoms and that to enjoy those other freedoms people must have a free flow of information," she said. "People should be able to debate issues without restriction."

The press freedom group also honored Peter Jennings, the U.S. television correspondent and anchor who died in August, with a lifetime achievement award. Mr. Jennings was particularly well known for his foreign reporting.