News / Africa

Persecuted Journalists to Receive Awards for Their Work

Ethiopian journalist Dawit Kebede was jailed for nearly two years for his reporting on the country's 2005 election violence
Ethiopian journalist Dawit Kebede was jailed for nearly two years for his reporting on the country's 2005 election violence

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Elizabeth Lee

The Committee to Protect Journalists lists 25 journalists from around the world who were murdered this year because of their work.  And countless others face threats, prison time and harassment.  Each year, the U.S.-based Committee honors journalists who risk their lives to do their jobs.

This year, four journalists will receive the International Press Freedom Award at a ceremony in New York next week. Three of them first traveled to Washington to share their thoughts with fellow journalists.

Laureano Marquez is a writer from Venezuela who uses humor in his political commentary. "We are the voice for the ones who can't speak out or don't have access to the media.  In my case, my work is humor and humor has always been society's voice," he said.

The Venezuelan government wants to prosecute Marquez.  He says the government's reaction to his writing shows how freedom of expression in Venezuela is deteriorating. "Media outlets that have been critical of the government have been shut down and also some media outlets are practicing self censorship. Protest is being criminalized so that people are afraid to criticize the government," he said.

Nadira Isayeva of Russia also faces prosecution.  She is editor-in-chief of a weekly newspaper in the southern republic of Dagestan and has written about how Russian security forces combat Islamic militants.  After publishing an interview with a former guerrilla leader who accused authorities of corruption, the government accused her of being an extremist. She faces the possibility of eight years in prison, but says she feels vindicated by the Press Freedom Award.

"I broke into tears because there was a lot of misunderstanding about my personal position and of the position of the newspaper in general," she said.

Ethiopian authorities jailed Dawit Kebede for nearly two years for his reporting on the country's 2005 election violence.  He remained in Ethiopia, even though many of his colleagues left the country.

"I always wanted to be a journalist. It was the only thing in my mind," he said.

Kebede says the government's response to his work encourages him to continue. "As far as the government trying to undermine you, by different harassment, that's a recognition that you're doing your professional duty," he said.

Iranian journalist Mohammad Davari is serving a five-year prison sentence and cannot personally accept his award. Iranian authorities arrested him last year on charges of "mutiny against the regime," following his investigative report on the abusive treatment of prisoners.

Joel Simon is the executive director of Committee to Protect Journalists. "Davari is paying a terrible personal price for doing what journalists are supposed to do, exposing corruption and abuse," he said.

The other three award winners face the same threat of prison, but they say that will not stop them from reporting the truth.

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