CPJ presents International Press Freedom Awards
New York, November 23, 2005–The Committee to Protect Journalists presented its 2005 International Press Freedom Awards on Tuesday to three journalists and a media lawyer–from Brazil, China, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe–who have endured beatings, threats, intimidation, and jail because of their work.
The 15th annual awards presentation, held at the Waldorf-Astoria, honored:
Galima Bukharbaeva, former Uzbekistan correspondent for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, who risked her life covering the killing of hundreds of protesters by government troops in the city of Andijan in May. Bukharbaeva, now in exile in the United States, faces criminal prosecution for her reporting on the Andijan crisis, police torture, and the repression of Islamic activists.
Beatrice Mtetwa, a media lawyer and tireless defender of press freedom in Zimbabwe, where the law is used as a weapon against independent journalists. Despite being arrested and beaten because of her work, she continues at great personal risk to defend journalists. She has won acquittals for several journalists facing criminal charges, including two London journalists arrested during April’s tightly controlled parliamentary election.
Lúcio Flávio Pinto, publisher and editor of the semimonthly paper Jornal Pessoal, who has courageously reported on drug trafficking, environmental devastation, and political and corporate corruption in a vast, remote region of Brazil’s Amazon. Physically assaulted and threatened with death, he also faces a constant barrage of civil and criminal lawsuits aimed at silencing him. Pinto was unable to come to the United States because one missed court appearance would give the authorities a pretext for jailing him. His daughter, Juliana da Cunha Pinto, accepted his award for him.
Shi Tao, a freelance journalist for Internet publications and an editor for Dangdai Shang Bao, a Chinese business newspaper. His essays on political reform, published on news Web sites outside China, drew the ire of authorities. Now serving a 10-year prison sentence for “leaking state secrets abroad,” Shi’s plight highlights China’s intense effort to control information on the Internet.
CPJ also honored the late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for a lifetime of distinguished achievement. Board members Dan Rather of CBS and Tom Brokaw of NBC presented the award to Jennings’ son, Christopher.
Pinto‘s daughter, Juliana, accepted the award on his behalf. Pinto faces 18 pending criminal and civil defamation lawsuits; the court dates and deadlines are so frequent that he cannot leave his hometown. “I am sending you this forest appeal,” he said in remarks by his daughter. “Lay your bridges to this side of the world. Come aboard the challenge to build a civilization and forest culture in this Eden that the great creator delegated to his very human creations.”
Bukharbaeva dedicated her award to the many hundreds of innocent victims in Andijan “whose lost lives oblige us to continue to report the truth. … As an exile, I live with the hope that all of us who had to flee Uzbekistan will be able to go back home. I hope we will be able to grieve openly for those who died. But my greatest hope is that the lessons of Andijan will not be forgotten, and that Andijan will never be repeated.”
Mtetwa noted that “Zimbabwe holds the dubious honor of having the highest number of journalists in exile. …The absence of an independent daily newspaper or independent radio, means that people in the country are not informed properly about what is going on: human rights abuses, food shortages, petrol shortages, the collapse of the health and education systems, and the breakdown of the rule of law.”
Shi will be given his award when he is released from prison.
Manuel Vázquez Portal, who was imprisoned in Cuba and unable to receive his award in 2003, accepted the honor on Tuesday. “Today, because of so many generous words, so much effort by so many, I was able to come here to meet you, thank you personally, and ask you to come with me once again to rescue from loneliness, obscurity, and imprisonment more than 20 journalists who are still locked up in Cuban jails,” he said. “It is on their behalf and for them, that I accept this award. They need it. May it reach them and set them free.”
“These individuals inspire us all,” said Paul Steiger, CPJ board chairman and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. “In the face of grave dangers, they have shown extraordinary bravery, tenacity, and dedication in defending the free flow of vital information.”
CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said: “All of the awardees have risked their lives and their freedom to report the truth about politicians, policies, businesses, and crime. For their work, these journalists have been attacked in various ways by powerful people determined to hide their actions.”
Clarence Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune and CPJ board member, hosted the awards ceremony. The dinner chairman was Leslie Moonves, CBS chairman.