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Committee Honors Journalists Fighting for Press Freedom

  • Catherine Cannon

The Committee to Protect Journalists is honoring five journalists with its 2008 International Press Freedom Awards, and one media and human rights lawyer with a lifetime achievement award. VOA's Catherine Cannon reports, the award recipients have risked imprisonment, harassment, and their lives to report the news and fight for press freedom in their countries.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has selected five journalists to receive this year's International Press Freedom Award. The committee says the journalists from Uganda, Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan have all displayed courage and independence while reporting the news.

The Committee's Executive Director, Joel Simon, says the award honors reporters who report the news as they see it and strive to keep the world informed.

One award recipient, Andrew Mwenda, is the founder and managing editor of The Independent newsmagazine in Uganda. He says he just learned that Uganda authorities raided his magazine's office and presented a warrant for his arrest. "I am a very lucky man because I am here, I should have been in Uganda right now under tight government security," he said.

Despite harassment from police and 21 criminal charges, Mwenda has published stories criticizing the Ugandan Army and its role in northern Uganda's civil war. He also has a political talk show that has been banned by the government several times. Mwenda says he does not know why police are looking for him right now, but he says he will continue to do his job.

"You can be sure that no matter what the state may do, whether they threaten to jail us, to torture us, or even to kill us, we strongly believe that we would rather die yesterday, defending the cause of freedom of expression, than live for the next one-thousand years acquiescing to tyranny," he said.

In addition to the five press freedom awards, the committee is also honoring Media and Human Rights Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from Zimbabwe. Mtetwa has defended numerous journalists against charges brought by President Robert Mugabe's government. Executive Director Joel Simon described Mtetwa's life-long efforts to help the fight for press freedom in Zimbabwe.

"There is really no person that I admire more. She is personally courageous, deeply committed, and despite everything that has happened in her homeland, she has not succumb to cynicism," he said.

The committee is also honoring two journalists from Afghanistan, Danish Karokhel and Farida Nekzad, and Bilal Hussein of Iraq. The U.S. military imprisoned Hussein, a photographer for the associated press, for two years in Afghanistan without charges. The fifth award winner, independent journalist Maseda Gutierrez, is in prison in Cuba for writing about issues ignored by the official Cuban press

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