New York, November
26, 2008 --The Committee to
Protect Journalists honored five journalists with its 2008 International Press
Freedom Awards in a ceremony Tuesday night that highlighted journalists
imprisoned worldwide. A Zimbabwean media lawyer who has successfully defended
numerous journalists facing prison was honored for her lifetime achievements.
The evening featured the
first public comments from awardee Bilal Hussein, an Associated
Press photographer who was detained for more than two years by the U.S. military in Iraq. Hussein's 2004 photo of Iraqi
insurgents during the battle of Fallujah helped AP
win a Pulitzer Prize.
"Iraq is one of the world's most
dangerous countries for journalists to live and work in because some of the
parties at conflict did not want the truth to come out," said Hussein, who spoke
via live satellite link. "A journalist is like a candle that burns to light up
the way for others. A journalist suffers tragedies in order to brighten the
course toward the truth." He offered words of encouragement to other
journalists behind bars: "If I had to go through this again I would not
hesitate if it is to get the truth out, because I know I will not be alone."
About 800 people attended the
benefit dinner, which raised $1.25 million. Jeff Zucker, president
and CEO of NBC Universal, was dinner chairman. Gwen Ifill, managing
editor of the PBS news show "Washington Week" and a member of the CPJ board,
hosted the dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Zucker noted CPJ's participation
in the newly launched Global
Network Initiative, which for the first time sets telecommunications
industry guidelines to protect privacy and free expression. "The battle over
freedom of expression is moving online," he said. "It is essential that we
preserve freedom of speech on the Internet, which is such a powerful and
positive tool for the dissemination of knowledge."
Paul Steiger, CPJ's board chairman, called for the United States to
end its practice of detaining journalists for prolonged periods without charge.
"The United States has
detained dozens of journalists in Iraq,
Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay," said Steiger. "Some were held for
extended periods of time. None were ever formally charged with a crime. All
were denied due process. This pattern of long-term, open-ended detentions must
end. I call on the incoming Obama administration to pledge to end this
Awardee Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez
could not attend because he is imprisoned in Cuba, a victim of the 2003 "Black
Spring" crackdown on the independent press. His award was presented by CPJ
board member Christiane Amanpour,
who called on those in attendance to sign a CPJ petition seeking his immediate
release. The cards were collected and will be sent to Cuban President Raúl
Castro. CPJ will hold Maseda's award until he can attend a CPJ awards dinner
and accept it in person. From prison, Maseda Gutiérrez sent a letter to CPJ
accepting his award. The text is available on the CPJ Blog.
Other awardees focused on
challenges to freedom of the press in Uganda
one should think we underestimate the resolve or capacity of the government to
harm us," said Ugandan editor Andrew Mwenda, founder of The Independent magazine. "Arrest, imprisonment, even death are very cheap costs for
us to pay compared to the continued loss of freedom and liberty, and the
deterioration of democracy, that would surely take place in the absence of our
work and the work of others who share our values and beliefs." While Mwenda
was in the United States to accept
his award, police in Uganda
issued him a summons for questioning. Mwenda already faces 21 criminal charges
for his work.
Karokhel and Farida Nekzad, director and deputy director of Pajhwok Afghan News,
spoke passionately about the pressures they face reporting in such a tumultuous
environment. Nekzad, one of the region's leading female reporters, highlighted
the difficulties faced by women working in Afghanistan. "Journalists in
general are targets but female journalists in particular face grave danger, not
only from warlords, Taliban, political parties, clerics, and government but
even from their own families," she said. "Because of
this separation of women, many stories remain untold."
Metetwa, a media lawyer from Zimbabwe
and a former IPFA Award winner in 2005, received CPJ's Burton Benjamin Memorial
Award for lifetime achievement. New York
Times reporter Barry Bearak, who was freed from a Zimbabwean
jail this year after Mtetwa represented him, presented the award. Mtetwa, who
received a standing ovation, noted that Zimbabweans
are suffering from preventable diseases such as cholera and can no longer count
on basic necessities such as clean water. To arrest and prosecute journalists
for drawing attention to these ills, she said, illustrated the government's arrogance.
Other presenters included author,
editor, and reporter Steve Coll, CBS News anchor Harry Smith, and NBC foreign
correspondent Richard Engel, who
detailed the abusive treatment Hussein endured while in custody.
More details are on the CPJ