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Committee to Protect Journalists Honors Reporters from Afghanistan, Cuba, Morocco, Russia - 2003-09-26

The New York-based media advocacy group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, [announced Friday it] is honoring reporters from Afghanistan, Cuba, Morocco and Russia with its annual International Press Freedom awards.

The war in Iraq brought worldwide attention to the dangers journalists face when covering conflict.

But Committee to Protect Journalists director Ann Cooper says this year's International Press Freedom awards highlight other kinds of threat.

"The kinds of threats they face sometimes are physical violence, but they are also censorship, an attempt to bomb a newspaper office, jail sentences - these are things that these journalists live with every single day, and yet, they remain very determined," she said. "They believe that it is important for their societies to have independent sources of news, which is why they are willing to take the risks."

Ms. Cooper says it is imperative that the international community pay attention to government repression against journalists, particularly in Cuba.

She says, in March, when international attention was focussed on Iraq, Fidel Castro launched a government crackdown on the independent press in Cuba. Twenty-eight reporters were arrested and convicted and sentenced to 14 to 27 years in prison.

Cuban reporter Manuel Vazquez Portal, who helped establish an independent news agency in 1999, was among those arrested. He is now serving an 18-year prison sentence.

Director Ann Cooper says the committee wants to honor them all. "We hope not only to highlight the plight of Manuel Vazquez Portal, who is the awardee, but with all of these more than two dozen Cuban journalists, who are suffering just because they were trying to report the news from Cuba," she explained.

The New York-based monitoring group is also honoring reporters from Afghanistan, Morocco and Russia for the independence of their reporting from places that do not easily tolerate dissent.

Abdul Samay Hamed is considered one of the most important voices for press freedom in Afghanistan today. At a time of transition in his country, he has written critical commentaries about political and social problems. Mr. Hamed was attacked for his work by two men with knives in April, but has since recovered and has returned to his writing.

Another one of those honored is Musa Murdov, a journalist for the independent Grozenshky Rabochy newspaper in Chechnya. In 1999, the newspaper's offices in the Chechen capital were bombed and one reporter was killed. Mr. Murdov has carried on his work from exile in Moscow.

Moroccan reporter Aboubakr Jamai, another honoree, was sentenced to months in prison and fined nearly $200,000 for investigating government corruption in 2001. He is now free pending an appeal.

The International Press Freedom Awards will be presented at a ceremony in New York in November.