Journalists Receive
1996 Press Freedom Awards

The International Press Freedom Awards are given annually by CPJ to journalists around the world who have courageously provided independent news coverage and viewpoints under difficult circumstances. To defend press freedom, award winners have risked arrest, imprisonment, violence against themselves and their families, and even death.

The following five journalists received awards on Nov. 26 in New York City:

Kashmiri journalist Yusuf Jameel, one of the leading reporters on the civil war in Indian-held Kashmir, has led a career marked by violent reprisals-beatings, grenade attacks, and, last fall, a letter bomb addressed to him that killed a colleague.

Formerly a correspondent for the BBC and a stringer for Reuters and Time magazine, Jameel currently works as a reporter in Delhi for the newspaper Asian Age. He returned to Kashmir in September to report on the first state-assembly elections there since the civil war began in 1989. But getting the story was not the only purpose of Jameel's trip. He returned to attend a memorial service for Mushtaq Ali, a cameraman with Asian News International and Agence France-Presse. Ali was fatally injured in September 1995 when he opened a letter bomb addressed to Jameel, who sustained only minor injuries. Soon after, Jameel relocated to London, where he worked for the BBC for several months more before returning to India.

Jameel has had to withstand pressure and attacks from all parties to the Kashmiri conflict, which pits Indian security forces and government-backed militias against an array of guerrilla groups fighting for the state's independence or its merger with Pakistan. The combatants view the local press as biased in favor of their adversaries, and retaliate through violence and intimidation.

As a reporter for the BBC and Reuters-news organizations widely respected in Kashmir for their nonpartisan coverage of the war-Jameel was a conspicuous target for intimidation. In 1990, Indian security officers seized him, took him blindfolded to a remote location and held him incommunicado for interrogation about a colleague's alleged contacts with militants. Unlike most cases involving attacks on Kashmiri journalists, Jameel's abduction resulted in disciplinary action for three of the officers involved.

On two separate occasions in 1992, unidentified assailants threw grenades at Jameel's home and office in Srinagar. Later that year, security officers severely beat him on the head as he attempted to cover a protest march by a Kashmiri women's organization; Jameel was hospitalized for four days following the assault.

In addition to the violent reprisals, Jameel has periodically faced threats from militant separatists displeased with his coverage of the war.

Jameel has said he is "keen to return to Srinagar to resume work, but many well-wishers, concerned for my safety, insist that I should not do so." But, he added, "I believe that such risks are part of my profession."

J. Jesús Blancornelas and longtime colleague Hector Félix Miranda founded Zeta, a feisty weekly newspaper in Tijuana, in 1980 and set a bold agenda for Mexican journalism. In a country where the news media had historically kowtowed to government interests and where bribe-taking among journalists was so commonplace that it spawned a litany of catchphrases, Zeta dared to provide what few other Mexican newspapers had: hard-hitting stories on Mexico's most vexing problems-official corruption and drug trafficking.

The cost of Zeta's independence has been high: Félix, a popular columnist known as "Félix the Cat," whose writing frequently targeted the wealthy and powerful, was murdered in 1988. The year before, unidentified assailants riddled the Zeta office with bullets. And over the years, the newspaper has suffered waves of harassment ranging from confiscation of its issues to outright threats to advertisers.

Zeta's drama has played out in one of the most contentious and volatile regions of Mexico. Tijuana has become one of the bloodiest battlegrounds in Mexico's ongoing internecine drug war, and in 1989, Baja California was the first state in Mexico to elect an opposition governor, ending the political monopoly of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI. Blancornelas and Zeta played a pivotal role in this historic political turning point by providing a forum for opposition viewpoints and subjecting previous governments to close investigative scrutiny.

Despite the risks, Blancornelas has not been deterred. In the wake of Félix's murder-which remains unsolved despite unprecedented public outcry-he continued to print his colleague's name on the masthead of Zeta and in each edition reproduced one of Félix's columns opposite a black page that asked, "Who killed me?"

As late as 1989, it was still common practice for journalists to take money from elected officials, government bureaucrats, and businessmen. From Zeta's founding, however, Blancornelas made the paper's policy clear: the slightest suspicion of bribe-taking is cause for dismissal.

In 1990, Baja California Gov. Ernesto Ruffo Appel prohibited state officials from offering government bribes to journalists. And former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari enacted a similar policy among his cabinet. As a result, says Blancornelas, "the tradition-bound daily newspapers have no other recourse but to change their tainted politics, speak the truth, and learn to survive through advertising and circulation sales-or die."

Blancornelas' refusal to abide by the status quo, which has shackled and silenced Mexico's press, has helped myriad publishers, editors, and reporters find the courage to build a free and independent press there. Throughout Mexico, he has been recognized as a pioneer, a rare example of courage and independence in the provincial press for more than two decades.

Daoud Kuttab has long challenged the censorship practices of both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.

In the 1980s, Kuttab worked as a reporter and later managing editor of the now-defunct English-language weekly Al-Fajr, as a reporter and columnist for the Arabic-language East Jerusalem daily Al-Quds, and as a contributor to other papers, including the Jerusalem Post. During that time, he was arrested, searched, and fingerprinted on several occasions for activities that included participating in public demonstrations against Israeli press censorship and writing about an armed attack by Jewish extremists at the Palestinian University in Hebron.

After leaving Al-Fajr in 1987, Kuttab went to work for Al-Quds, where he broke many stories on the peace process and was the first Palestinian to conduct exclusive interviews with Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

Since implementation of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Kuttab has been a vocal critic of the anti-democratic treatment of the press by Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority president. Arafat's government has dealt despotically with critical reporting and legitimate political dissent, jailing dozens of journalists.

In August 1994, Arafat ordered Al-Quds to stop publishing Kuttab's columns after Kuttab led independent journalists in a protest against the banning of Al-Nahar, Jerusalem's only other Arabic-language daily at the time. Al-Quds capitulated and fired Kuttab. But he refused to be silenced. He continues to write op-eds for several prominent newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The International Herald Tribune. And, as president of the Palestinian Audio-Visual Union, he has been active in protesting censorship and access violations by the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Kuttab also serves as co-director of Internews Middle East-a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that aims to facilitate the free flow of information by supporting independent journalists and media. In April 1996, in honor of that mission, he created the censorship-free Arabic Media Internet Network on the World Wide Web (http://www.amin.org). The site features a magazine to which Palestinian journalists contribute stories that news publications will not carry for fear of official retaliation. In June, Kuttab used the site to mobilize support for Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a human rights activist arrested by the Palestinian Authority for his criticism of Arafat. Kuttab posted an open letter from Sarraj to Arafat that no newspaper had been willing to publish.

Throughout his career, Kuttab's initiatives to educate, empower, and mobilize an independent Palestinian press have been driving forces behind efforts to foster independent journalism in the Middle East.

Ocak Isik Yurtçu had little to celebrate last July 24, Journalists Day in Turkey. "Nobody in the world has been sentenced to so many years in prison for articles others have written," he said from his jail cell in an interview with the daily Yeni Yuzyil.

Yurtçu, former editor in chief of the now-defunct daily Özgür Gündem, is serving a 15-year sentence for disseminating "separatist propaganda." The case against him was based on articles about the Kurdish conflict published in Özgür Gündem in 1991 and 1992. Tried and convicted in 1993, he began serving jail time in December 1994, when an appeals court upheld his sentence.

For three years running, Turkey has held more journalists in prison than any other country. Yurtçu's case is emblematic of the types of charges used by the government to imprison dozens of reporters, editors, and columnists. Yurtçu was convicted of violating Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Anti-Terror Law and Article 312 of the Penal Code. These articles in effect classify all reports on the Kurdish rebellion other than the government's as either "incitement to racial hatred" or propaganda for the insurgent Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK.

During Yurtçu's tenure, which began in 1991, Özgür Gündem was widely read and respected as an unbiased newspaper that offered readers an alternative to the inadequate coverage of the Kurdish issue by the mainstream, pro-government media. And it also broke new ground with its hard-hitting reporting on the fighting between the military and the PKK guerrillas in the country's Southeast.

Yurtçu's case was only one of many against Özgür Gündem. The government led a concerted campaign of arrests, bans, and trials against the paper, eventually forcing it to close in April 1994. In addition to the legal harassment, journalists at the paper were frequent targets of violent reprisal by unidentified assailants. In 1992 alone, four journalists with the paper were assassinated. The murderers were never brought to justice.

In an interview with the daily Millyet, Yurtçu was blunt about the impossible bind Turkish journalists are put in: "They can use laws to put you in prison just for mentioning the word 'PKK' in your news story. They take this as 'praising the terrorist organization.' How can you write about the Southeast without mentioning the PKK?"

Since Yurtçu's imprisonment, several more sentences have been handed down from other cases against him, and he says he is no longer sure how many more years he will be incarcerated.

According to a colleague, Yurtçu refused an offer of self-imposed exile when faced with prison. "He decided to stay in his country to fight against the injustice," Huseyin Akyol wrote in a successor paper to Özgür Gündem. "He believes that being a journalist cannot be a crime."

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger was honored with CPJ's Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for his lifelong dedication to press freedom. Twenty-five years ago, as publisher of The New York Times, he made a decision that profoundly strengthened the free American press. He decided that the Times should publish portions of the Pentagon Papers, the secret Defense Department history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The series of articles that followed changed the public's perception of its government-and, just as important, changed the press's view of its role in a democratic society.

The pressures on Sulzberger as publisher of the Times were great. The paper's longtime lawyers told him that he risked criminal prosecution. The Vietnam War was going on, with American soldiers coming back in body bags, and he was an intensely patriotic person. But he decided that the interest of telling Americans the truth about an issue that was dividing the country must prevail: that it was the public's right to know and the press's duty to report.

After the third installment of the series appeared in the Times, the Nixon administration won a restraining order from a judge: the first prior restraint against newspaper publication ever granted to the federal government. The Supreme Court overturned that restraint in a landmark decision. Justice Hugo L. Black, in his concurring opinion, said that "in revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War," the Times and other newspapers that followed it "nobly did" what the framers of the Constitution had hoped and expected.

The New York Times was later awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

International Press Freedom award Winners 1991-1995
Pius Njawe, Le Messager, Cameroon
Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming,
Economics Weekly, China
Bill Foley and Cary Vaughan,
United States
Tatyana Mitkova, TSN,
former Soviet Union
Byron Barrera, La Epoca, Guatemala

David Kaplan, ABC News, United States
Muhammad Al-Saqr, Al-Qabas, Kuwait
Sony Esteus, Radio Tropic FM, Haiti
Gwendolyn Lister, The Namibian,
Thepchai Yong, The Nation, Thailand

Omar Belhouchet, El Watan,  Algeria
Doan Viet Hoat, Freedom Forum,
Nosa Igiebor, Tell magazine,  Nigeria
Veran Matic, Radio B92, Yugoslavia
Ricardo Uceda, Si,  Peru

Iqbal Athas, The Sunday Leader, 
Sri Lanka
Aziz Nesin, Turkey
Yndamiro Restano, Cuba
Daisy Li Yuet-wah, Hong Kong
Journalists Association, Hong Kong
In memory of staff journalists, Navidi

Yevgeny Kiselyov, NTV, Russia
José Rubén Zamora Marroqu’n, Siglo
Fred M’membe, The Post,  Zambia
Ahmad Taufik, Alliance of Independent
Journalists (AJI), Indonesia
Veronica Guerin, Sunday Independent, 

Burton Benjamin Memorial Award Winners 1991 - 1995
Walter Cronkite
CBS News

Katharine Graham
The Washington Post Company

R.E. Turner
Turner Broadcasting System Inc.

George Soros
The Soros Foundations

Benjamin C. Bradlee
The Washington Post

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