Honoring tenacious reporting in defiance of violence and repression

New York, November 21, 2012–Four fearless journalists from Brazil, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Liberia were honored Tuesday evening at the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 22nd International Press Freedom Awards benefit dinner, an annual recognition of courageous journalism, hosted by PBS senior correspondent Gwen Ifill.

“We are proud to recognize the work of these journalists, who have defied huge obstacles to ensure that information flows uncensored and unimpeded,” said CPJ Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe. “There is much to do, but tonight’s awardees inspire us as we fight to overcome the repression and violence that silence insightful reporting.”

Award winners Dhondup Wangchen, a Tibetan documentary filmmaker imprisoned in China, and Azimjon Askarov, a reporter with Ferghana News serving a life sentence in Kyrgyzstan, were honored in absentia, their plaques to be held until they are released. Journalist and author Kati Marton, who presented the awards to Wangchen and Askarov, asked guests to join the more than 8,000 people who had signed online petitions demanding their freedom. In a letter to CPJ from prison in reaction to the award, Askarov wrote: “I am extremely grateful for your recognition, and I remain hopeful that I will one day see the sun once more, not through the barred window of my prison cell, but as a free man.”

“It is an unbearable sign of our times that two of this year’s awardees are behind bars. Around the world, the number of journalists in prison is on the rise,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Journalism is being criminalized in many places. We must do more to win the release of those whose reporting is vital to communities everywhere.” At the dinner, Simon also introduced CPJ’s Free the Press video, which will become the centerpiece of an upcoming campaign dedicated to winning the release of imprisoned journalists.

Mauri König, an investigative reporter with Brazil’s Gazeta do Povo, whose probing of human rights and corruption has resulted in him being attacked and threatened, received his award from Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief Matthew Winkler. Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of The Associated Press, presented the award to Mae Azango of FrontPage Africa and New Narratives. Azango’s reporting on the sensitive issue of female genital mutilation in Liberia pushed her into hiding this year. CPJ also paid homage to Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, by awarding him the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for his unwavering commitment to press freedom. The award was presented by Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of Slate Group.

The awards dinner was chaired by David Boies, chairman of the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, a longtime CPJ supporter whose inspiring remarks focused on the importance of a free press and its relevance to the rule of law.

The event, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel, raised a record $1.6 million for CPJ’s work denouncing anti-press violations, providing assistance to targeted journalists, and advocating for press freedom worldwide. The nearly 900 distinguished guests at the event also pledged support for CPJ’s Campaign Against Impunity during a special appeal that raised just over $100,000, most of which will be matched two-to-one by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Dinner guests were given an exclusive preview of Speak Justice: Voices Against Impunity, a new digital initiative powered by CPJ to demand justice in the killings of journalists whose murders remain unsolved. The campaign was featured during this year’s post-dinner reception, allowing guests to explore multimedia features on iPads and sign up to become advocates against impunity. Speak Justice, set to officially launch on December 6, will release a special video on November 23, the International Day to End Impunity.

Note to editors: High-resolution photos of the awardees and the awards dinner will be made available to the press by CPJ and Getty Images.  Video profiles of the awardees and speeches from the dinner are available on http://www.cpj.org/awards/2012/