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Women from China, Lebanon, Mexico and US Honored as Champions of Free Press

The International Women's Media Foundation has given its 2006 Courage in Journalism award to an American reporter held in captivity in Iraq for 82 days, a Chinese journalist jailed for six years, and a Lebanese broadcaster who survived a bomb attack and a legendary Mexican writer.

Every year the non-profit Foundation honors women journalists whose work has made them champions of a free press. This year's winners are a particularly high profile group who have found themselves in the headlines, rather that the bylines.

May Chidiac was one of the best-known faces on Lebanese television when a bomb exploded under her car in September 2005. Chidiac survived the blast but lost a hand and a leg. She had just completed a show addressing the possible involvement of Syria in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. After nine months of treatment and 26 surgeries, Chidiac returned to the airwaves in July. In May, she was awarded the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize. Chidiac says she will not be silenced.

"One year after the aggression, I am more convinced that the aggressors wanted to eliminate me for I have spoken my mind, for I believed in a free democratic Lebanon, for I never asked my country, as President Kennedy once said, what my country can do for me but what I can do for my country," she said.

Jill Carroll was abducted in Iraq January 7 after she was attacked along with a driver and interpreter. Carroll, a freelance reporter for the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor at the time, was held in captivity for 82 days. Her interpreter was killed in the attack. Carroll, who chose not to speak at the awards ceremony, is donating her prize money to a fund to help her driver, who is living under threat in Iraq. She has donated previous award money to the family of the murdered interpreter.

The third woman recognized this year, Chinese economic and political reporter Gao Yu, also won the Courage in Journalism Award in 1995. With the help of a translator, Gao explained why she did not accept the first award. "In 1995, when I received the Courage Award for the first time, I was being held in one of Beijing's most remote prisons after having been arrested for the second time. I wrote to China's then-minister of Justice asking him to forward my letter of appreciation to the International Women's Media Foundation. The letter was torn to pieces by the prison police," she said.

Gao was sentenced to six years in prison in 1993 on charges of leaking state secrets. She was also arrested in 1989 on the eve of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

The International Women's Foundation says her writing and involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy movement and her willingness to jeopardize her safety and career contributed to the free press movement.

The group gave a lifetime achievement award to Elena Poniatowska, a well-known Mexican journalist who has crusaded against corruption and for the poor and for women throughout an illustrious career. Her book Massacre In Mexico (La Noche de Tlateloco) is considered the definitive account of the 1968 student movement that ended with the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

In 1979 she became the first woman to receive Mexico's National Journalism Prize. Poniatowska says her strength as a reporter is listening to the voices of the people. "Where does a writer get her voices? I got them first in jail in 1959 during the incarceration of railroad workers who had gone on strike, then in 1968 during the student massacre, then at the moment of the 1985 earthquake. Why under those circumstances? Because it is in the extreme situation that men and women feel the urge to be with others and they speak out," she said.

During the ceremony, a moment of silence was observed in tribute to Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in Moscow October 7. Politkovskaya won the Courage award in 2002. She was an outspoken critic of Russia's human rights abuses in Chechnya. The International Women's Media Foundation is mounting a campaign calling on the Russian government to fully investigate her murder.