CPJ Press Freedom Awards: Honoring tenacity and courage

International Press Freedom Awards

New York, September 13, 2012–Four journalists who risked their lives and liberty to reveal abuses of power and human rights violations in Brazil, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Liberia will be honored with the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2012 International Press Freedom Awards, an annual recognition of courageous reporting.

The awardees–Mauri König (Gazeta do Povo, Brazil), Mae Azango (FrontPage Africa and New Narratives, Liberia), and jailed journalists Dhondup Wangchen (Filming for Tibet, China) and Azimjon Askarov (Ferghana News and Golos Svobody, Kyrgyzstan)–have faced severe reprisals for their work, including assault, threats, and torture. Askarov is serving a life sentence in connection with his coverage of official corruption, and Wangchen is serving a six-year prison term following his documentation of Tibetan life under Chinese rule.

“We are inspired by these journalists who have paid a high price for their enduring dedication to the truth,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Two–Azimjon Askarov and Dhondup Wangchen–have actually been arrested and jailed for their critical reporting. We will not rest until they are free.”

CPJ will present Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement in the cause of press freedom.

All of the winners will be honored at CPJ’s annual awards dinner in New York City on November 20, 2012. PBS senior correspondent and CPJ board member Gwen Ifill will host the event. The dinner chairman is David Boies, chairman of the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP.

CPJ 2012 International Press Freedom Awardees:

  • Mauri König, one of Brazil’s premier investigative journalists, has spent 22 years reporting on human rights abuses and corruption.  König’s work includes a series of articles in late 2000 and 2001 that documented the recruitment and kidnapping of Brazilian children for military service in Paraguay. While researching the story in Paraguay, König was brutally beaten with chains, strangled, and left for dead. In 2003, he faced a wave of threats from police as he reported along the Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina border area. Neither case was ever resolved.
  • Dhondup Wangchen is a self-taught Tibetan documentary filmmaker who conceived and shot the film “Leaving Fear Behind” to portray life in Tibet in advance of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Shortly after his footage was smuggled overseas, Wangchen disappeared into Chinese detention. Knowledge of his whereabouts came only after Jigme Gyatso, a monk who had helped shoot the film, was released from jail. Wangchen was sentenced to six years in prison, and in January 2010, he was denied appeal.
  • Azimjon Askarov, a Kyrgyz journalist and human rights defender, is serving a life term in prison in connection with his coverage of official wrongdoing and abuse. His conviction–following a judicial process marred by torture, lack of evidence, and fabricated charges–has been challenged by human rights organizations and the Kyrgyz government’s own ombudsman’s office. Askarov was charged with complicity in an officer’s murder and a series of anti-state crimes, but a CPJ special report, based on interviews with the journalist, his lawyers, and witnesses, has shown that no material evidence or independent witnesses were presented in court to support any of the charges.
  • Mae Azango is one of a small number of female reporters working in Liberia. For the past 10 years, she has worked to expose the plight of ordinary people, particularly women and girls, who have been victimized by issues long hushed in her society. In 2012, Azango took on the politically sensitive subject of female genital mutilation, drawing threats that forced her and her daughter into hiding for weeks. Throughout, she continued to report on the practice, ultimately forcing the government to declare they would work to stop the dangerous practice.

Burton Benjamin Memorial Award

  • Alan Rusbridger has been the editor of the Guardian since 1995, making the U.K. newspaper a leader in international reporting and a champion of press freedom. Whether in courtrooms or online, Rusbridger has defended the right to investigate and publish stories in the public interest. Guardian.co.uk is consistently ranked among the top news websites in the world. The award is named in honor of Burton Benjamin, the CBS News senior producer and former CPJ chairman who died in 1988.

 “Alan Rusbridger has created a newspaper and website that inform the entire world,” said CPJ Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe. “We are proud to pay tribute to this achievement.”


Note to editors: CPJ International Press Freedom Award winners are available for interviews prior to the awards dinner on November 20, 2012. Media accreditation for coverage of the awards dinner will begin on October 18. For tickets to the dinner, please contact CPJ’s Development Department.

Media contact: CPJ Communications Associate Nancy Sai; Tel. +1.212.300.9032, E-mail. [email protected]

More on the Awards

• The ceremony • Awardees • König, Brazil • Wangchen, China • Askarov, Kyrgyzstan • Azango, Liberia • Rusbridger, U.K.