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CPJ To Honor Five International Journalists
New York , September 16, 2008 —The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor courageous journalists from Iraq , Afghanistan , Uganda , and Cuba with its 2008 International Press Freedom Awards at a ceremony in November.
Bilal Hussein of Iraq, Danish Karokhel and Farida Nekzad of Afghanistan, Andrew Mwenda of Uganda, and Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez of Cuba have all risked imprisonment, harassment, and, above all, their lives to report the news and stand up for press freedom in their countries.
“These are the front-line reporters who risk their lives and their liberty to bring the news not only to the people of their own countries but to a global audience,” said CPJ Board Chairman Paul Steiger . “Their courage and determination have expanded the world's knowledge in critically important ways.”
“Our award winners embody what CPJ stands for—the right of journalists everywhere to report the news as they see it,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We honor them and stand behind them and their colleagues as they strive to keep all of us informed.”
Beatrice Mtetwa , a press and human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe , will receive CPJ's Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement in recognition of her continued efforts to ensure a free press in one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
The awards will be presented at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on Tuesday, November 25. Jeff Zucker , chief executive of NBC Universal, is chairman of the black-tie dinner. Gwen Ifill , CPJ board member and managing editor of PBS' “Washington Week,” will be the host.
Here are the recipients of CPJ's 2008 International Press Freedom Awards:
? Bilal Hussein , a photographer for The Associated Press, risked his life covering Ramadi and Fallujah in the volatile Anbar province in western Iraq . Hussein's 2004 photo of Iraqi insurgents firing on U.S. troops during the battle of Fallujah helped AP win a Pulitzer Prize in photography. This same photo may also have led to his detention by the U.S. military. Hussein was arrested by U.S. forces in April 2006 and held for two years without charge. His case illustrates the U.S. military's alarming tactic of open-ended detentions of Iraqi journalists. All of the detained journalists have ultimately been released without any charges ever being substantiated against them.
? Danish Karokhel is director and Farida Nekzad is managing editor and deputy director of Pajhwok Afghan News, Afghanistan 's leading independent news agency. The agency maintains eight bureaus throughout the country, staffed and managed entirely by Afghans. Pajhwok draws on a network of contributing local and foreign reporters who provide stories in English, Pashto, and Dari.
Karokhel and Nekzad are also media rights activists in one of the world's most dangerous countries. Both committed themselves to the advancement of press freedom after the fall of the Taliban. A prominent Afghan journalist, Karokhel is also an internationally recognized authority on Afghanistan 's modernization. Nekzad, who will be honored in October by the International Women's Media Foundation, is one of the country's leading activists for women's rights. During a flurry of attacks on female journalists in Afghanistan last year, she and some of her staff came under threat from Islamic groups angered by Pajhwok's reporting. Nekzad never stopped working, despite being greatly concerned about her safety. She has affirmed her commitment to staying in Afghanistan regardless of personal risk.
? Andrew Mwenda, founder and managing editor of the newsmagazine The Independent , is one of Uganda 's most outspoken and best recognized journalists . A press freedom fighter throughout his career, Mwenda resigned last year as political editor of Uganda 's leading independent daily, The Monitor , arguing that government intimidation had compromised its editorial freedom. This year, despite repeated harassment by police, Mwenda launched The Independent, a hard-hitting publication critical of the government. In April, after Mwenda published two stories criticizing the Ugandan Army and its role in northern Uganda 's civil war, police raided his office and detained him along with two other reporters. He has faced persecution from the government and police throughout his journalism career: His political talk show on KFM, “Tonight with Andrew Mwenda,” was banned several times and he has been slapped with dozens of defamation lawsuits in recent years.
? Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez was part of Cuba 's flourishing independent press movement when he was arrested and jailed along with 28 other journalists in Fidel Castro's massive crackdown on political dissidents in March 2003. The following month, Maseda Gutiérrez was sentenced to 20 years in prison for acting “against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.” Maseda Gutiérrez began working as an independent journalist in 1995. He later founded, along with veteran journalist Manuel Vázquez Portal, the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, which published reports critical of Cuba in foreign media. Maseda Gutiérrez delved into social problems in Cuba and began to write long investigative pieces, including a series on the brutality and human right violations in Cuban prisons published shortly before his arrest. At age 65, Maseda Gutiérrez is the oldest of 22 journalists still behind bars in Cuba today. He managed to write his memoir, Enterrados Vivos (Buried Alive), smuggling the manuscript out one page at a time. The book was published in the United States in 2007.
Burton Benjamin Memorial Award: Beatrice Mtetwa, Zimbabwe
? Beatrice Mtetwa is a tireless defender of press freedom in Zimbabwe , where the law is used as a weapon against independent journalists. The country's leading human rights and media lawyer, Mtetwa has fearlessly stood up against the lawlessness of the Mugabe government. She has won acquittals for dozens of journalists arrested under Zimbabwe 's repressive media laws.
Mtetwa represented Barry Bearak, the Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times correspondent who faced criminal charges in Zimbabwe last April. She defended Bearak and a British freelancer against charges of “practicing journalism without a license” and won their release from jail. Bearak, who is based in South Africa for The New York Times will travel to New York to present this award.
Mtwewa has endured her own torment at the hands of Zimbabwe 's brutal regime. Last year, she was beaten with clubs by the police. It was the second attack on Mtetwa in five years.
The Burton Benjamin Memorial Award is named in honor of the late CBS News senior producer and former CPJ chairman who died in 1988. Mtetwa, a 2005 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award, is the first person to be honored with both awards.
“Mtetwa's courageous efforts on behalf of journalists in Zimbabwe demonstrate her unflinching commitment,” CPJ's Steiger said. “She is richly deserving of the Burton Benjamin Award, given for lifetime achievement in the cause of press freedom.”
The International Press Freedom Awards, now in their 18th year, are the centerpiece in CPJ's annual fund-raising effort, providing more than a third of the budget for our press freedom advocacy efforts around the world.
To attend the awards dinner, see our online reply form .
For more information about the award winners, and for information about CPJ's work or CPJ, visit our Web site at www.cpj.org or call 212-465-1004 x105.