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Journalist Group Announces 2006 Press Freedom Award Winners

The Committee to Protect Journalists announced Friday this year's International Press Freedom Award winners.

The recipients are Colombian Jesús Abad Colorado, Yemeni Jamal Amer, Gambian Madi Ceesay and slain Iraqi journalist Atwar Bahjat.

The CPJ's Executive Director Joel Simon says this year showed a continuation in the trend of violence against journalists. "There is a more widespread phenomenon which is that journalists, for a number of complex reasons, are losing their neutral observer status," he said.

The CPJ reports that so far this year at least 46 journalists have died either in the line of duty or by being targeted for assassination. More than half of those deaths have occurred in the Middle East, with 26 in Iraq alone.

Amer, an editor of an independent weekly in Yemen, was kidnapped briefly last year for publishing reports on government corruption. He says foreign media need to focus on more issues than just terrorism. "If the press here would deal with issues of press freedoms, etceteras, it would better for us and it would also be better for the terrorism situation," he said.

Colorado is the first photojournalist to receive a Press Freedom Award. Leftist guerrillas have kidnapped him twice for his images of human rights abuses during Colombia's civil war. He says all of this year's award recipients perform an activity that benefits all the people of the world. "I must understand that my work at the service of an entire society, the work of a Colombian, or an African journalist, one from the Middle East or a valiant woman who died in Iraq is part of solidarity -- an effort of solidarity that must continue," he said.

Ceesay agrees with Colorado about the importance of journalism to a society, especially in the face of government opposition. Ceesay is the general manager of a leading private paper "The Independent." The Gambian government held Ceesay for three weeks without charge after publishing critical articles about an attempted coup.

The journalists will receive their awards next Tuesday at a ceremony in New York City. The event will also mark the CPJ's 25th anniversary.