CPJ to honor brave international journalists

International Press Freedom Awards

Writers and editors from Ethiopia, Russia, Venezuela, and Iran to receive International Press Freedom Awards. Aryeh Neier to be honored with Burton Benjamin Award.

Clockwise from top left, Márquez, Kebede, Davari, and Isayeva.
Clockwise from top left, Márquez, Kebede, Davari, and Isayeva.

New York, October 5, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor four courageous journalists with its 2010 International Press Freedom Awards at a ceremony in November. Dawit Kebede of Ethiopia, Nadira Isayeva of Russia, Laureano Márquez of Venezuela, and Mohammad Davari of Iran have risked their freedom and security to report the truth as they see it in their countries.

More on the Awards
To Attend
Risking liberty, security
Davari, Iran
Isayeva, Russia
Kebede, Ethiopia
Márquez, Venezuela
Neier, Benjamin Award

“The winners of the 2010 International Press Freedom Awards have endured violence, threats, imprisonment, and even torture because of their work as journalists,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Each has made a vital contribution to civic life in his or her country. They have exposed wrongdoing, denounced corruption, and cast a skeptical eye on official actions. We honor and support their independence and courage.”

Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Institute, will receive CPJ’s Burton Benjamin Memorial Award in honor of his long career in defense of press freedom and human rights.

The awards will be presented at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York on Tuesday, November 23. Sir Howard Stringer, chairman, chief executive officer, and president of Sony Corp., is chairman of the benefit. Brian Williams, a CPJ board member and anchor and managing editor of NBC’s “Nightly News,” will be the host.

Here are the recipients of CPJ’s 2010 International Press Freedom Awards:

Dawit Kebede, Ethiopia

Kebede, 30, was one of the first journalists to be jailed for independent reporting on Ethiopia’s 2005 election violence. And he was among the last to be released under a presidential pardon nearly two years later. Unlike many of his colleagues who went into exile, Kebede chose to stay in Ethiopia after he walked free from Addis Ababa’s Kality Prison, where he had been crammed into a communal cell with 350 political prisoners. The government rebuffed Kebede’s attempts to get a publishing license after his release but relented in the face of public pressure. Kebede launched the Awramba Times in 2008, and today it is the country’s only Amharic-language newspaper that dares question authorities. “Here are three things people should know about me,” Kebede says. “First, it is impossible for me to live without the life I have as a journalist. Second, unless it becomes a question of life and death, I will never be leaving Ethiopia. Third, I am not an opposition. As a journalist, whatsoever would be a governing regime in Ethiopia, I will never hesitate from writing issues criticizing it for the betterment of the nation.”

Nadira Isayeva, Russia

Isayeva, 31, has incurred the wrath of security services in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus for her relentless reporting on their handling of violence and militant Islam in the region. As editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Chernovik (Rough Draft) in the southern republic of Dagestan, she has criticized as counter-productive the heavy-handed tactics of state agencies charged with fighting terrorism. In 2008, authorities brought a criminal case against her under anti-extremist legislation after she published an interview with a former guerrilla leader, who accused local authorities of corruption and of being in thrall to the Kremlin. Isayeva sees the case as retaliation for Chernovik’s work. If convicted, she faces up to eight years in prison. She and the newspaper are regularly harassed with official summonses, financial audits, and state-commissioned “linguistic analyses” that label content as extremist. Investigators have searched Isayeva’s home, seizing a computer, books, and files. A local prosecutor has sent her notice that she must undergo a psychological examination. Since June 2009, the main state media regulator has been trying to close the paper for “hostile attitudes toward law enforcement officers and other extremist statements.”

Laureano Márquez, Venezuela

If there were an Algonquin Round Table in Caracas, Laureano Márquez would have a seat. Journalist, author, actor, and humorist, Márquez has found rich fodder in Venezuela’s idiosyncratic political landscape. He is the scourge of left-wing President Hugo Chávez and other politicians for his biting columns in the Caracas-based daily Tal Cual and other national publications. He is also the author of three books of humor, including the national 2004 bestseller, Código Bochinche. In February 2007, he and Tal Cual were fined after a court ruled that a satirical “letter” to Chavez’s daughter “violated the honor, reputation, and private life” of the then 9-year-old girl. In the piece, “Dear Rosinés,” Márquez urged the girl to influence her father to be nicer to his political opponents. In January, Marquez, 47, wrote a piece in Tal Cual that imagines a Venezuela freed from the political oppression of a ruler named “Esteban,” a veiled reference to Chávez.  Information Minister Blanca Eekhout demanded the journalist be criminally prosecuted, describing the column as an assault on the country’s democracy and a coup plot disguised as humor.

Mohammad Davari, Iran

Davari, 36, editor-in-chief of the news website Saham News, exposed horrific abuse at the Kahrizak Detention Center, videotaping statements from detainees who said they had been raped, abused, and tortured. The center was closed in July 2009 amid public uproar, but by September of that year the coverage had landed Davari in Evin Prison. He is serving a five-year prison-term for “mutiny against the regime.” His mother has written to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to say that her son has himself been tortured in custody. Now in solitary confinement, Davari has not been allowed contact with his family for more than eight months. The journalist had served his country and paid a high price. As a young student, Davari volunteered to fight in the Iran-Iraq War, during which he suffered eye and leg injuries.

Here is this year’s recipient of the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award:

Aryeh Neier, United States

CPJ will honor Aryeh Neier with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award given for a lifetime of distinguished achievement in the cause of press freedom. Neier is a pillar of the U.S. and international human rights community. He spent 15 years with the American Civil Liberties Union, including eight as national director. He was a founder in 1978 of Human Rights Watch and ran the organization as executive director for a dozen years before joining the Open Society Institute as president. In 1981 when a small group of U.S. journalists wanted to help colleagues overseas who were in trouble, Neier provided invaluable advice about starting a nonprofit group. That organization became CPJ, and Neier served on its board for many years. He writes frequently for the New York Review of Books, and has been published in numerous periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and Foreign Policy. For 12 years he wrote a column on human rights for The Nation.

“Aryeh Neier is a true pioneer in the field of press freedom and human rights,” CPJ Chairman Paul Steiger said. “Through his ground-breaking work at Human Rights Watch, his leadership of the Open Society Institute, and his journalism, Aryeh has advanced press freedom and helped countless individual journalists and writers around the world.” The Burton Benjamin Memorial Award is named in honor of the CBS News senior producer and former CPJ chairman who died in 1988.

CPJ will also present a 2009 International Press Freedom Award to J.S. Tissainayagam of Sri Lanka, who was jailed and could not accept the honor in person last year. International advocacy by CPJ and others helped win Tissainayagam’s freedom in May of this year.

The International Press Freedom Awards, now in their 20th year, are the centerpiece of CPJ’s annual fund-raising efforts.

  • To attend the awards dinner, please contact CPJ’s Development Office at 212-465-1004 x 113.
  • For more information about the award winners and CPJ’s work, visit our website at www.cpj.org, or call 212-465-1004 x105.