Awardee Speeches – 2000

International Press Freedom Awards

Steven Gan,
editor of the provocative online publication Malaysiakini, routinely tests the limits of his government’s tolerance for press freedom by publishing articles on the Internet that could never appear in Malaysia’s tightly controlled mainstream press.

The Internet alone cannot bring about democracy.

True, the Internet can, and has, made a difference. But in many Third World countries, the Internet penetration rate is extremely low. In addition to the digital divide between the rich and the poor, there is a language divide, a gender divide, and a geographical divide.

Moreover, there is no complete freedom on the Net. Take, for example, Malaysiakini. The only advantage we have over the traditional media in Malaysia is that we need not apply for a publication license from the government. But we still face all the other restrictive laws that keep the mainstream media in check: there is the internal security act, the Official Secrets Act, laws against sedition, libel and defamation, and contempt of court–just to name a few.

Until all these restrictive laws are repealed, there can be no genuine press freedom.

Press freedom on the Internet, like its analog cousins, must be zealously defended and protected. Which is why I am honored to be the first Internet journalist, and first Malaysian, to receive this International Press Freedom award.

Malaysia is a democracy, but our system is full of contradictions. We have freedom of speech, but no freedom after speech. There is freedom of movement, but no freedom of assembly. We have a plethora of publications, but no free press.

The government had a complete monopoly on information — until the emergence of the Internet.

Malaysiakini went live exactly one year ago, and we are still very much a cowboy outfit. Yet we already have 120,000 visitors daily –which puts us in league with the major daily papers in Malaysia.

To be honest, I have not done anything courageous. I have been simply doing my job as a professional journalist. But this award is greatly appreciated. It shows Malaysian journalists that they are not alone.

When I was briefly detained in prison four years ago, I found it a rather pleasant experience. Pleasant, because at night when I climbed up the wall and looked outside the tiny window of my cell, I could see a sea of flickering lights. Hundreds of supporters were outside holding a candlelight vigil.

With this award, Malaysian journalists can now climb up the wall to see that there are people like you on the outside who are standing by them, and together we shall keep the flame of press freedom burning.

Zeljko Kopanja, co-founder and editor of Nezavisne Novine, the largest independent Serb daily in Bosnia-Herzegovina, lost both his legs as a result of a car-bomb assassination attempt outside his home in Banja Luka in October, 1999. The attack was prompted by articles in Nezavisne Novine that documented the killings of Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serb authorities during the 1992-95 war.

[Click here for Serbian text]

Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues:

This prestigious award from the Committee to Protect Journalists is a powerful support to all the people of my country who prefer the truth to lies, the light to darkness, good to evil, the future to the past.

This recognition arrives at the moment when the fight in my country is culminating against the villains who are determined to demonstrate that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country of deaf, dumb, and blind citizens.

But this is not so, as is shown by my visit here which comes in spite of those who plant the seeds of fear, and in spite of their constant threats and bombs.

Although Bosnia and Herzegovina suffers acutely from a virus of hatred it is on its way to a full recovery.

More and more journalists are openly raising numerous questions which burden the awareness and the consciousness of citizens, and set in motion questions to which the answers are generally painful. Journalists’ search for the truth can help every one to understand that each person carries his part of the responsibility for hatred and love. Their work is a necessary precondition for the creation of a country of peace, tolerance, love, and freedom.

This is why I am asking you to continue helping Bosnia and Herzegovina, and not to forget us in our fight against the demons of evil and hatred.

My colleagues and friends ask me if it was worth sacrificing a part of me for the truth. My answer has been and will always be: “yes, it was” since without ascertaining the truth there is neither peace nor freedom, and I don’t wish to and cannot live in slavery.

I am taking this opportunity to publicly thank Ms. Kati Marton from the Committee to Protect Journalists and his Excellency Thomas Miller, the Ambassador of the United States to Bosnia and Herzegovina who helped me to surmount my most difficult moments, and to continue with my professional and life’s mission.

Thank you.

Modeste Mutinga, publisher of Le Potentiel, the only independent daily newspaper in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, has been repeatedly jailed for daring to publish, and refusing to reveal sources for, reports critical of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila and his regime.

[Version en Français]

Distinguished guests and colleagues:

I could have burst with joy and with satisfaction at being amongst those chosen for this year’s International Press Freedom Award.

But the drama that is tearing apart my country, the atrocities that my fellow countrymen are facing as victims of aggression, rebellion and political intolerance, make that joy impossible.

Although three million people have died in my country in the past two years, I feel that the American press has not been moved to action. I denounce this indifference.

Dear colleagues, it is extremely difficult to maintain freedom of the press in a country that is occupied, war-torn, divided, dominated by warlords, and run by authoritarian government.

We experience nothing but imprisonments, arbitrary arrests, and overwhelming harassment by the police!

On top of political repression, Congolese journalists have other major problems.

We need computers, printing presses, paper for newspapers, generators, and all other computer related materials.

Tonight’s gala is a call to all journalists to persevere and to reject all compromises with the powers that be that would detract from the interests of the silent majority.

I cannot conclude without expressing my gratitude to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

However, I do not deserve this prize any more than my four colleagues who are currently in prison in Kinshasa and for whom I ask your moral and especially financial help.

I dedicate this award to all Congolese journalists and to all those in my country who are fighting for democracy.

Thank you.

Distingués invités, chers confrères :

A cette occasion de la remise du prix international de la liberté de la presse, j’aurais pu exploser de joie et de satisfaction de compter parmi les lauréats de cette année.

Mais le drame qui frappe mon pays, les atrocités que subissent mes compatriotes victimes de l’agression, de la rébellion et de l’intolérance politique me contraignent à la retenue.

Face à un bilan macabre, trois millions de morts en deux ans, il me semble que les massacres d’une telle ampleur n’ont pas ému la presse américaine. Je dénonce cette indifférence.

Chers confrères, dans le contexte d’un pays occupé, agressé, divisé, dominé par les chefs de guerre et un gouvernement autocratique, l’exercice de la liberté de la presse est mis à mal.

Que des emprisonnements, des arrestations arbitraires et des interpellations intempestives !

A part la répression politique, les journalistes congolais sont confrontés à d’autres problèmes majeurs.

Nous avons besoin d’ordinateurs, d’imprimantes, du papier journal, des générateurs et d’autres consommables informatiques.

Le gala de ce soir est un appel à nous tous journalistes à la persévérance et au rejet de toute compromission au profit des intérts de la majorité silencieuse.

Je ne peux terminer sans exprimer ma profonde gratitude au CPJ.

Cependant je ne mérite pas ce prix plus que mes quatre confrères qui sont en prison a Kinshasa et en faveur desquels je sollicite votre soutien moral, et surtout matériel.

A tous les journalistes congolais et à tous ceux qui se battent pour la démocratie dans mon pays je dédie ce prix.