President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, which is observed on May 3.
He said all three faced harsh treatment in their home countries for their work as journalists in service of the truth. He added they are now continuing their journalistic endeavors in the United States where they were granted political asylum.
Dieu Cay (this is his pen name) from Vietnam is a blogger who has written extensively on human rights and religious freedom and is a leading voice for press freedom in his county. He spent six years in prison and was released last October.
Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia has written to expose the marrying off of young girls as child brides in her country. She was harassed and detained and now works for the National Endowment for Democracy.
Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, works for the Voice of America’s Russian Service.
Obama said “she reported on military operations in the North Caucasus region, as well as disappearances and corruption. She was attacked, kidnapped, tortured herself. Today, she reports for the Voice of America and most recently has spent time reporting on the Boston trials related to the Boston bombing.”
After returning to VOA following the meeting with Obama, Tlisova said the opportunity to meet and speak with the president was indeed a moving experience, but above all the importance of it was the message that the President of the United States sent to journalists in Russia.
“Because killing journalists, arresting journalists, intimidating journalists is not just a punishment, it is an act of sending a message to all other journalists,” she said, a harsh treatment that has contributed to increase of self-censorship.
The message of the president was that “free voices matter… that criticizing the president, criticizing the government is not an act of treason, it is an act of patriotism, it helps every government, every president to improve their performance” Tlisova said. At present, the freedom of press is continuously under attack in Russia, where practically all media outlets are in the tight grip of the government.
Tlisova also showed her fellow journalists at VOA a signed message that Obama sent to her parents. It reads “all the best; your daughter is very courageous!”
Fatima Tlisova, a wife and mother of two, was an investigative journalist, researcher and expert on the North Caucasus region of Russia. She wrote extensively on Circassian nationalism, the role of Islam in regional affairs, human rights abuses during the military operations in the North Caucasus, torture, disappearances and corruption. She served as editor-in-chief of the Regnum News Agency, worked as a special correspondent of Novaya Gazeta, and reported for RFE/RL and for The Associated Press.
In 2007 and 2009 she testified before the United States Congress on human rights and freedom of expression in Russia.
She has won numerous international awards, including the Lyons award for Conscious and Integrity in Journalism from the Nieman Foundation, the German Zeit-Stiftun Award for commitment to reporting on the conflict in Chechnya, the Rory Peck Freelancer's Choice Award for "continuous bravery, commitment to the story and efforts to help fellow journalists", the Human Rights Watch award for journalism as advocacy, the Amnesty International Media Award for best magazine article, and an AP award for best report on a hostage situation.