CPJ honors journalists who risk their lives for press freedom

November 19, 2021—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) paid tribute Thursday to brave journalists from Guatemala, Mozambique, and Myanmar by presenting them with CPJ’s 2021 International Press Freedom Awards (IPFA) in New York. CPJ also honored Hong Kong media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai with its 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.

“The journalists we are honoring today have been sustained by a fierce belief in the justness of their cause and the power of an informed society. They have risked their lives and liberty to bring us the news,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We are reminded by their sacrifice that to practice journalism in the face of grave danger requires a profound sense of optimism and a sincere faith in humanity.”

The awardees recognized at the event included Mozambican investigative journalist Matías Guente, Guatemalan radio journalist Anastasia Mejía Tiriquiz, and Myanmar journalist and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) founder Aye Chan Naing.

“I see this award not only as recognition, but also as an enormous responsibility for our role as Mozambican journalists in the defense of press freedom,” said Guente, who has faced attempted kidnappings, physical attacks, and threats in retaliation for his outlet’s hard-hitting reporting. Guente, who received his award from CNN senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir, described his recognition as “a call to the world that press freedom transcends borders, and we are all called upon to defend it.”

Aye Chan Naing accepted his award from Ed Yong of The Atlantic. As DVB’s founder, editor and director, Aye Chan Naing—who ran an underground network of in-country reporters from exile in Norway before helping bring DVB aboveground—said there was “one bright light” after February’s military coup led to the latest press crackdowns in Myanmar. “Ten years of relative freedom had created a generation of talented, dedicated Burmese journalists,” he said. “Through online platforms, these journalists have fought every waking hour since February to uncover the grave crimes against humanity committed by the military. Their work is breathtaking, as is the unconquerable desire for freedom of the Burmese people.”

Mejía, who received her award from New York Times Magazine journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, said she would continue her work in Guatemala and “stay committed to the fight against corruption” in spite of facing arrests, detention, and restrictions for her reporting on issues relevant to her community and indigenous women. “I receive this award on behalf of my people in Santa Maria Jolabaj,” said Mejía.

David Muir, the ABC “World News Tonight” anchor who hosted the event, described the awardees as an inspiration. “They battled the rich and powerful, often with little more than a camera and a notebook,” he said. “We owe our undying support to them and the thousands like them who advance the cause of free expression just by going out in the streets to report.”

Imprisoned Hong Kong media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai received this year’s Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award for his sustained commitment to a free press as a cornerstone of democracy. Journalist Amanda Bennett, a former director of Voice of America, interviewed Lai’s son, Sebastien Lai, who shared the story of his father’s courage in the face of crackdowns from Chinese authorities.

Iranian journalist Mohammad Mosaed, who was unable to accept his 2020 award due to threats of imprisonment, also received his award and described his fight against censorship, saying, “Journalists are duty-bound to keep the world informed. Hiding the truth creates crises and ignoring them creates catastrophes. This is an important lesson and reason to continue the quest for truth.”

Also among the award highlights was a message from the musician Bono paying tribute to the power of journalism.

This year’s awards ceremony was chaired by Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation and CPJ board member. The event raised over $2 million, which will go toward supporting CPJ’s work to protect press freedom globally.

“We are grateful to Darren Walker and all of our supporters who helped make this such a successful event,” said CPJ Board Chair Kathleen Carroll. “Their support means the world to us and is a reminder that press freedom remains more necessary than ever.” 

Because of COVID-related restrictions, the awardees could not be present at the ceremony. Instead, they were featured in a video presentation screened for CPJ supporters at The Plaza hotel in New York City and streamed by CPJ and abcnews.com. One of the awardees, Katsiaryna Barysevich, could not be featured due to shifting security conditions in Belarus.  

Visit ipfa.cpj.org to watch the presentations and listen to the awardees. Journalists interested in scheduling an interview should email [email protected].