The Liberian journalist who wrote about the practice of female circumcision, or genital mutilation (FGM), and its health risks in Liberia said she is still receiving threats and harassment from people who feel that her writings betrayed a traditional practice.
Mae Azango of FrontPage Africa and New Narratives was one of the recipients of this year’s Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award.
She also received an award for “courageous reporting” from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression in Toronto.
Azango rejected suggestions by her critics that she wrote about the practice to get political asylum in the United States.
Azango said she’s pleased her work this year on the issue of female circumcision is being recognized by some in the international community.
“I feel good that my work has been recognized by the outside instead of my own country. A lot of people [in Liberia] don’t appreciate because, up till now, I still get a whole lot of comments that I shouldn’t have done what I did. I sold my culture to the white people for plenty of money,” she said.
Azango said money was not part of the two awards she received for her reporting contrary to what she said some in Liberia thought. She said she wrote about FGM to shed light on the health risks of the practice.
“What kind of money? They gave [me] the awards without money. I’m not selling my culture. I was only writing about the health risks that are claiming the lives of many women and girls. Some of these people just take knives and just cut the children. They don’t have any medication to stop the bleeding, no anesthesia. They just cut these children. These are risks I was pointing out. Then they said I shouldn’t have said it,” Azango said.
Azango said she did not betray her culture. She said it was hypocritical that she would be criticized for writing about FGM, whereas whites or foreigners who write about the same practice are not equally criticized.
“Let’s face reality. This female genital mutilation has been in the open for a very long time. People have been talking about it all on the Internet and nobody seems to complain, but [only] because Mae Azango is from Liberia. Let’s forget culture and tradition. Let’s talk about the three-, four-, five-year-old girls who are dying. Do they have to cut them because of tradition?” Azango asked.
She said she is still receiving threats and harassment from people who feel that her writings betrayed a traditional practice.
“I still get threats in my email. People that I know are still threatening me. They are still sending [threats] to my box to say the penalty for what I did is death. No matter how long it takes, they will get me. So, of course, I know my life is in danger,” Azango said.
Azango said she had to send her 10 year-old daughter to live with a relative because she also fears for her daughter’s life.
“Even my nine year-old daughter, who just turned 10, she no longer lives with me. I took her and sent her to a different relative. I’m sitting in the United States; I came for an award but, because I’m here, those people could go behind my back and snatch my daughter away. That’s how the traditional people can behave,” Azango said.
She rejects suggestions by her critics, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, she wrote about the practice to get political asylum in the United States.
“Since I wrote this story, I won’t say Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has come out to say anything until the last time, I think that was last month [September 2012] or so, when she came to Columbia School [University] and somebody in the audience asked her about this same Mae Azango issue. And her remark was a journalist who gets on the Internet and just writes things because they want to come to the United States, it’s dangerous. What she’s trying to say is that I wrote the story because I want to come to the U.S.,” Azango said.
Azango said she intends to return to Liberia this month because she loves her country and that no one is going to scare her from returning there.
“I’m going back this same month. This December, I’m going back. Nobody will scare me out of Liberia. They are not more Liberian than Mae. All of us were born in Liberia. So, why would one person want to scare me out of my own country? It can’t happen, not under this sun. I don’t want political asylum. I love my country better than living in the US,” Azango said.