New York, September 25, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) will honor four journalists—from Afghanistan, Russia, Morocco, and Cuba—with the 2003 International Press Freedom Awards in November.
Abdul Samay Hamed (Afghanistan), Aboubakr Jamai (Morocco), Musa Muradov (Russia), and Manuel Vázquez Portal (Cuba) have suffered serious reprisals for daring to report with independence and authority in countries where dissent is not easily tolerated.
In addition, John F. Burns, chief foreign correspondent for The New York Times, will receive CPJ’s Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement.
The awards will be presented at a dinner ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on Tuesday, November 25. Stan O’Neal, chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., will chair the black-tie dinner, which CBS News anchor Dan Rather will host. Rather has been a member of CPJ’s board since 1982.
2003 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardees:
Abdul Samay Hamed is an independent writer, publisher, political cartoonist, poet, and one of the most important voices for press freedom in Afghanistan today. In 1998, he fled the Taliban and went into exile but returned in early 2002 to start the Association for the Defense of Afghan Writers’ Rights and the magazine Telaya. Telaya’s bold articles and Hamed’s commentaries about the political and social problems that plague the country earned him powerful enemies: In April, two men armed with knives attacked Hamed in the capital, Kabul, in reprisal for his critical comments about the power of warlords.
Aboubakr Jamai is the publisher of Morocco’s groundbreaking weekly newspaper Le Journal Hebdomadaire and its sister publication, Assahifa al Ousbouiya. Since they were founded in the late 1990s under the names Le Journal and Assahifa, the papers have boldly staked out new terrain in Moroccan journalism through tough investigative reporting on government corruption, corporate impropriety, and feature stories about taboo political topics. In 2000, the government closed both papers for publishing a letter tying a former prime minister to a 1972 assassination plot against King Hassan II. After re-launching the papers under new names, Jamai and a colleague were convicted in 2001 of defaming the foreign minister in an investigative article that accused him of corruption. They were sentenced to several months in prison and were ordered to pay fines and damages totaling nearly US$200,000. The journalists remain free pending an appeal.
Musa Muradov is the editor-in-chief of Chechnya’s only truly independent publication, the weekly Groznensky Rabochy. Muradov has been repeatedly harassed and threatened by both Russian federal authorities and by Chechen rebels because he refuses to allow Groznensky Rabochy to become a mouthpiece for either side in the ongoing civil conflict. In 1996, one of Muradov’s reporters was killed in crossfire, and Muradov himself was trapped in a basement for 14 days because of the intense shelling of the capital, Grozny. In 1999, another reporter was killed and a bomb destroyed the paper’s editorial offices, forcing Muradov to flee Chechnya. He continues to edit the weekly from Moscow and distribute it in Chechnya despite increased government restrictions on media coverage of the conflict.
Manuel Vázquez Portal was a high school teacher, a literary adviser to Cuba’s Ministry of Culture, and a journalist for several state-owned media outlets before he began working for the independent news agency Cuba Press in 1995. Four years later, he helped establish the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro. In March 2003, Portal was arrested when the Cuban government launched a massive crackdown on the independent press and the opposition. In all, 28 journalists were arrested, convicted, and given prison sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years. Portal remains in jail, where he is serving an 18-year sentence on spurious charges.
Burton Benjamin Memorial Award:
CPJ will honor John F. Burns, chief foreign correspondent of The New York Times, with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award, which is given for a lifetime of distinguished achievement for the cause of press freedom. The Burton Benjamin Award is named for the late CBS News senior producer and former CPJ chairman, who died in 1988.
Burns has won two Pulitzer Prizes for his work in war zones (in 1997 for reporting on Afghanistan’s Taliban fighters and in 1993 for his coverage of Bosnia) and two George Polk Awards (one as part of a team reporting on South Africa in 1979 at the height of apartheid and one in 1996 for his Afghan coverage). After four decades in journalism, he was appointed chief foreign correspondent at The New York Times in April 2003. He has served as the Times bureau chief in New Delhi, Toronto, Moscow, and Beijing.
In announcing the awards, CPJ Board Chairman David Laventhol said, “The four foreign journalists we are honoring have endured hardship, violence, and deprivation for performing the most critical journalistic function: reporting honestly and accurately on what they see each day. None of them set out to be heroes, but to us that’s what they’ve become.”
Ann Cooper, CPJ executive director, said of the journalists, “In a year in which we have been painfully reminded of the danger that journalists confront while covering war, it’s important that we honor and recognize the courage of local journalists around the world who confront similar risks while reporting right outside their own front door.”