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4 Journalists Honored For Reporting in Dangerous Environments - 2002-11-20

Four journalists are being honored by the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists, for their reporting in highly dangerous and repressive environments. The journalists, from Kazakhstan, Colombia, Bangladesh and Eritrea, demonstrate the extreme risks involved in reporting in a climate hostile to press freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is honoring the four journalists determined to report the truth despite death threats, beatings, and imprisonment. Three of the journalists are in the United States, where they will receive the 2002 International Press Freedom Awards at a ceremony next week in New York. The fourth, Eritrean journalist Fesshaye Yohannes, is currently in prison in his country at an undisclosed location.

Yves Sorokobi, the African Program Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, met with Mr. Fesshaye in Namibia last year. He says the reporter has been out of favor with the Eritrean government for a long time, because he published articles critical of President Isaias Afewerki. In September of last year, the journalist was imprisoned along with most of the country's independent press corps.

"So since that day, he has been in prison, there are no charges against him and the 17 other journalists that are in prison. No trial date is known. Eritrea is not known to have a judicial system capable of handling such a sensitive matter," Mr. Sorokobi said.

Another of the honored journalists was more fortunate. Irina Petrushova is the editor-in-chief of a newspaper critical of the government of Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev. She received threats including the delivery of a funeral wreath. The severed head of a dog was found near her house, and a dog's corpse was discovered at the newspaper's office. The newspaper's building was subsequently firebombed and burned. She was later threatened with imprisonment. In September, Ms. Petrushova moved to Moscow, where she continues to edit her newspaper in exile. Speaking through a translator, Ms. Petrushova says journalists can get accustomed to living under pressure.

"What is impossible to get used to, is when the authorities in a country, in our country, in this case, from psychological pressure move on to the physical pressure and they use invented pretexts to put journalists behind bars," she said.

Colombian journalist Ignacio Gomez has pursued investigative reporting for the past 18 years. He has written about alliances between drug lords and politicians, and examined the role of Colombia's military and paramilitary forces in numerous massacres. He founded a Colombian press freedom organization, and worked to defend the rights of journalists in a country where almost 30 reporters have been killed in the past decade.

"But we know that there is a lot of money and a lot of politics trying to get involved and trying to do business with the Colombian war. And with the lack of independent media in Colombia, you are losing the right to know how corrupt and how dirty those businesses have been," he said.

Tipu Sultan of Bangladesh arrived in the United States following a lengthy hospitalization for a nearly fatal beating. In January of last year, he was kidnapped and his hands and legs were beaten so severely that his assailants intended he would never report again.

The beating followed the publication of an article he wrote critical of a local politician whom he said brutally ruled a region. Journalists in Bangladesh, international press freedom organizations, and the public donated money for his extensive medical treatment. Speaking through a translator, Mr. Sultan says he was especially heartened by the response of the public.

"I believe that by doing that, the people of Bangladesh established their support for free and unbiased reportage," he said.

The awards ceremony in New York next week will also honor the life of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was killed earlier this year while on assignment in Pakistan.