CPJ is honored to present its 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, for extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom, to Pakistani editor Zaffar Abbas.

(White Star/Arif Mehmood)

Abbas is the editor of Dawn, Pakistan's leading daily newspaper. He has an extensive career in journalism, starting in 1981, when he worked as a junior reporter for the Karachi-based newspaper The Star. In 1988, he began working at the Herald, a prestigious Pakistani monthly magazine, as its leading investigative reporter. Four years later, he joined the BBC World Service as a Pakistan correspondent in Islamabad.

In 2006, Abbas left the BBC to join Dawn, where he reported on events including insurgency and civil war in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and post-9/11 policies and developments in the region, including the rise of Islamic militancy. In 2010, he was named Dawn's editor-in-chief.

Under Abbas' editorship, Dawn has come under government pressure several times. In May 2018, military guards disrupted the distribution of the newspaper in many parts of the country after the paper printed an interview with the former prime minister. Those disruptions still continue in some areas. In 2016, after Dawn published an exclusive report on the relationship between the military and leaders of the then-ruling party, distribution of the paper to provinces such as Sindh and Punjab was disrupted. Abbas told CPJ that he and the reporter of the story were each interrogated by members of the intelligence service for hours, but they refused to divulge their sources.

Abbas has faced reprisals for his work in the past. In 1991, armed men attacked him and his brother at his home in Karachi after he reported on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement political party. The two were badly beaten, and he required stitches on his head. A few years later, armed extremists attacked the BBC office in Islamabad and set it on fire, and beat him and his colleague. The attack was in apparent retaliation for two films shown on the BBC that showed members of a majority Sunni sect advocating attacks on Shias.

In 2018, CPJ published a special report on Pakistan, accompanied by a documentary, that found that widespread intimidation and threats of assault have led journalists and editors to avoid reporting stories on topics that would lead them into trouble. These topics include a wide range of touchy issues: religion, Chinese investment, relations with India, militant groups, and criticism of the military. "Even discussing politics or serious conflicts can be a red line," Abbas told CPJ last year.

Amid threats and murders of Pakistani journalists in recent years, Abbas has been a vocal supporter of industry steps for journalists to keep themselves safe. In 2015, he was elected chairman of Editors for Safety, a network of editors in Pakistan who work together to protect journalists who come under attack.


CPJ's 2019 Awards


CPJ's 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award

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2018

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2017

Ahmed Abba (Cameroon), Patricia Mayorga (Mexico), Afrah Nasser (Yemen), Pravit Rojanaphruk (Thailand)

2016

Mahmoud Abou Zeid, Shawkan (Egypt), Malini Subramaniam (India), Can Dündar (Turkey), Óscar Martínez (El Salvador)

2015

Cándido Figueredo Ruíz (Paraguay), Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (Syria), Zone 9 Bloggers (Ethiopia), Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, “Zunar” (Malaysia)

2014

Aung Zaw (Burma), Siamak Ghaderi (Iran), Mikhail Zygar (Russia), Ferial Haffajee (South Africa)

2013

Janet Hinostroza (Ecuador), Bassem Youssef (Egypt), Nedim Şener (Turkey), Nguyen Van Hai (Vietnam)

2012

Mauri König (Brazil), Dhondup Wangchen (China), Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan), Mae Azango (Liberia)

2011

Mansoor al-Jamri (Bahrain), Natalya Radina (Belarus), Javier Valdez Cárdenas (Mexico), Umar Cheema (Pakistan)

2010

Mohammad Davari (Iran), Nadira Isayeva (Russia), Dawit Kebede (Ethiopia), Laureano Márquez (Venezuela)

2009

Mustafa Haji Abdinur (Somalia), Naziha Réjiba (Tunisia), Eynulla Fatullayev (Azerbijan), J.S. Tissainayagam (Sri Lanka)

2008

Bilal Hussein (Iraq), Danish Karokhel and Farida Nekzad (Afghanistan), Andrew Mwenda (Uganda), Hector Maseda Gutiérrez (Cuba)

2007

Dmitry Muratov (Russia), Mazhar Abbas (Pakistan), Adela Navarro Bello (Mexico), Gao Qinrong (China)

2006

Jesús Abad Colorado (Colombia), Jamal Amer (Yemen), Madi Ceesay (The Gambia), Atwar Bahjat (Iraq)

2005

Galima Bukharbaeva (Uzbekistan), Beatrice Mtetwa (Zimbabwe), Lúcio Flávio Pinto (Brazil), Shi Tao (China)

2004

Svetlana Kalinkina (Belarus), Aung Pwint and Thaung Tun (Burma), Alexis Sinduhije (Burundi), Paul Klebnikov (United States)

2003

Abdul Samay Hamed (Afghanistan), Aboubakr Jamai (Morocco), Musa Muradov (Russia), Manuel Vázquez Portal (Cuba)

2002

Ignacio Gómez (Colombia), Tipu Sultan (Bangladesh), Irina Petrushova (Kazakhstan), Fesshaye Yohannes (Eritrea)

2001

Jiang Weiping (China), Geoff Nyarota (Zimbabwe), Horacio Verbitsky (Argentina), Mazen Dana (West Bank)

2000

Zeljko Kopanja (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Modeste Mutinga (DRC), Steven Gan (Malaysia), Mashallah Shamsolvaezin (Iran)

1999

Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández (Cuba), Baton Haxhiu (Kosovo), Jugnu Mohsin and Najam Sethi (Pakistan), María Cristina Caballero (Colombia)

1998

Grémah Boucar (Niger), Gustavo Gorriti (Panama), Pavel Sheremet (Belarus), Ruth Simon (Eritrea)

1997

Viktor Ivancic (Croatia), Freedom Neruda (Ivory Coast), Christine Anyanwu (Nigeria). Ying Chan (United States) and Shieh Chung-Liang (Taiwan)

1996

Ocak Isik Yurtçu (Turkey), Daoud Kuttab (Palestinian Authority), J. Jesus Blancornelas (Mexico), Yusuf Jameel (India)

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