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Lawyer, Three Journalists Win International Press Freedom Awards

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is giving its International Press Freedom Award this year to a media lawyer from Zimbabwe and journalists from Brazil, China and Uzbekistan. The recipients were honored in Washington ahead of an awards ceremony next week in New York.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says the annual award recognizes those who have endured beatings, harassment, imprisonment or other hardships covering the news or defending press freedom.

Juliana da Cunha Pinto addressed the news conference Thursday on behalf of her father, Lucio Flavio Pinto, who was selected for the award but unable to travel to the United States to receive it.

She says her father, who publishes a bi-monthly paper (Jornal Pessoal) in a remote region of the Amazon, had to stay in Brazil for court appearances connected to 18 lawsuits against him.

She says the lawsuits are mostly on trumped-up defamation charges, and were filed after he began reporting on the misuse of public funds, corruption and environmental devastation.

Another award winner, Galima Bukharbaeva, is being recognized for her coverage of a military crackdown on demonstrators in the Uzbek city of Andijan earlier this year.

Ms. Bukharbaeva, who was working for the London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting, says she witnessed Uzbek government troops firing on thousands of demonstrators.

She now lives in the United States, but says a climate of fear persists in Uzbekistan. "After Andijan, Uzbek authorities organized a real crackdown on the press in Uzbekistan. We can say now that almost independent journalism in Uzbekistan does not exist anymore. Journalists who are still in the country, they are afraid to do something because authorities persecute them, beat them up, arrest them, and put them in jail," she said.

Human rights groups say government troops killed hundreds of people in Andijan in the crackdown in May. But Uzbek authorities blame the violence on Islamic militants and say about 180 people, mostly security forces, died.

Beatrice Mtetwa, a media lawyer from Zimbabwe, is being recognized for defending journalists in Zimbabwe. Under a law strongly backed by the Mugabe government, journalists must be accredited each year by the state. Ms. Mtetwa says the law inhibits journalists because they fear losing their credentials. "The casualty, obviously, of this law is press freedom. If one cannot practice journalism as freely as is supposed to be the case, the free flow of information will be affected," she said.

Another recipient could not attend the Washington event. Shi Tao is serving a 10-year sentence in China on charges of leaking state secrets abroad. He had obtained an internal government document warning of possible unrest in connection with the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and sent it to a foreign-based Web site.

The media awards are to be presented Tuesday in New York.

U.S. news anchor Peter Jennings, who died earlier this year, will also be honored with a lifetime achievement award.