News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, November 2011
The award winners–Mansoor al-Jamri (Al-Wasat, Bahrain), Natalya Radina (Charter 97, Belarus), Javier Valdez Cárdenas (Riodoce, Mexico), and Umar Cheema (The News, Pakistan)–were honored along with television newsman Dan Rather, who received CPJ’s Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for his lifelong work in the cause of press freedom.
The event, which raised nearly $1.4 million for CPJ’s work, was chaired by Brian L. Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp. and chairman of NBCUniversal’s board of directors. A video screened that night described the emerging challenges for press freedom online and our role in curbing the digital offensive. Profile videos relayed the remarkable story of each award winner.
Thanks to generous donations of approximately $85,000 made from a fundraising appeal during the dinner–matched two to one by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation–CPJ will be able to expand the fight in its Global Campaign against Impunity.
The big finale at the Waldorf followed an intense week for the awardees who, along with CPJ senior staff, advocated for press freedom in high-level meetings with government officials in Washington, D.C. The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexican Institute hosted a roundtable discussion (webcast available) with honoree Valdez and other participants, while our colleagues at the Freedom House held a similar event with Belarusian awardee Radina.
Uzbek journalist freed
CPJ celebrates the release of Uzbek journalist Dzhamshid Karimov after years of advocating for his freedom. The journalist, who is also President Islam Karimov’s nephew, was kept for five years in a Samarkand psychiatric hospital. Last month, two Tajik journalists were freed from prison after CPJ incessantly called for their release. All told, CPJ’s advocacy in Central Asia has contributed to the release of 10 journalists this year.
Raising our voice on Syria and Egypt
After reporting on the arrests and disappearances of several journalists in Syria over the past several months, CPJ documented the first journalist killed in the country since 1992. In the more than 200 days after Egyptian President Mubarak was forced to step down, CPJ reported on 17 attacks on the press in Egypt in connection with clashes between security forces and protesters on two consecutive days in November.
CPJ’s continuous exposure of aggression against journalists in Egypt and Syria has kept a spotlight not only on the persistent dangers as Egypt transitions but also on the high price paid by those seeking to expose reality in Syria.
The triumph and the challenge
Recipients of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Awards are chosen not only to recognize their courage but also, in some instances, so that the international spotlight will serve as a protective shield, enabling them to continue their work.
In 2009, when CPJ honored Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev with an International Press Freedom Award, he was unable to receive it–he was in prison.
CPJ and other human rights organizations worked relentlessly to ensure his release, and in May, he was freed. On November 22, he walked on stage and received his much-deserved press freedom award. Fatullayev says he is determined to restart his newspapers, not an easy task in a country with a dismal press freedom record. The CPJ award and our consistent monitoring of the situation should help expand the space for press freedom in Azerbaijan. Yet the challenge is significant. Just a day after the awards dinner, an independent editor perished in Baku after being stabbed by unknown assailants.
As Mansoor al-Jamri accepted his award in New York, much of the global media was focused on a report hours away from being issued in al-Jamri’s native Bahrain, which documented systematic state torture and other violations as the country experienced pro-democracy uprisings this year. As the head of Bahrain’s only independent newspaper, al-Jamri had personally suffered as part of this crackdown and his analysis of the report was in high demand. He returned to a Bahrain enmeshed in debate about necessary reforms, and his paper, Al-Wasat, will surely continue to serve as a platform for uncensored reporting and analysis.
When awardee Javier Valdez Cárdenas returned to Mexico after receiving our award, he found out that his newspaper’s website had been shut down due to a cyberattack. According to their host server, the Ríodoce website had been the victim of a “large” distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack. CPJ immediately called for an investigation.
“We have lost many colleagues in a culture of impunity. Nevertheless there is no let-up in our resilience,” said Pakistani journalist Umar Cheema as he accepted his award. The next day, his colleague Mohammad Malick of The News, received anonymous threats in relation to his reporting on a political scandal. But Cheema is returning to Pakistan not only with recognition but as a reinforced symbol that Pakistani journalists will not be silenced.
International Day to End Impunity
November 23 will be remembered as the day of the Maguindanao massacre, the deadliest attack on the press ever documented by CPJ.
But November 23 has also become the first annual International Day to End Impunity, a day to stand up and fight the impunity that too often follows a journalist murder. CPJ and dozens of members of the International Freedom of Information Exchange spent the month demanding justice for killed journalists and urging governments to take action against those responsible for their deaths.
Bloomberg guide benefits CPJ
Proceeds from Bloomberg News editor-in-chief and CPJ board member Matt Winkler’s new book, The Bloomberg Way, are generously being donated to CPJ. The book details guiding principles for reporters and editors worldwide on the challenges of reporting.
Release: How many journalists are behind bars for their work? Which countries are the top jailers of journalists? Find out with the release of CPJ’s 2011 prison census on December 8.
Conference: CPJ has organized three days of workshops and panels from December 12 through 14, which are aimed at finding sustainable and cohesive solutions to the problems that East African journalists face in exile, including freelancers in every sector of the newsgathering industry. The conference, to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, will include participants from global and local press freedom groups as well as professional journalist groups and representatives of international bodies. To learn more about CPJ’s work on exiles, see our 2011 report.
CPJ’s Distress Fund provides emergency grants to journalists facing persecution for their work. Support our work and give an end-of-year gift today.
On the Blog