photos: Doug Goodman
Samay Hamed is an independent writer,
publisher, political cartoonist, poet, and one of the most important voices
for press freedom in Afghanistan today. In 1998, he fled the Taliban and
went into exile but returned in early 2002 to start the Association for
the Defense of Afghan Writers' Rights and the magazine Telaya.
Telaya's bold articles and Hamed's commentaries about the
political and social problems that plague the country earned him powerful
enemies: In April, two men armed with knives attacked Hamed in the capital,
Kabul, in reprisal for his critical comments about the power of warlords.
I would like to thank the Committee to Protect Journalists for honoring
an Afghan independent writer with this prestigious award. I hope it will
have a significant impact on freedom of expression in Afghanistan.
The idea of democracy is only just beginning to take shape in the capital,
Kabul, where there are over 150 newspapers and magazines. But in most
of the provinces, there is no media and little awareness of human rights
including free speech. Last year, when I was in a village in northeastern
Afghanistan, standing and reading a newspaper, I asked a local villager
if he had ever seen anything like the newspaper before, he said yes, he
had seen this kind of paper before in shops where it is used as
a bag for food.
The situation for working journalists in Afghanistan today can be confusing.
All of those in power censor independent journalists, and tradition and
religion can cause self-censorship. In the government, former supporters
of the Taliban are now democratic reformers, and warlords hold key government
positions. Five years ago, a warlord in Mazar-I-Sharif physically attacked
me because of my writing, beating me unconscious today he is a
minister, planning the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
The culture and mentality of democracy are new to Afghanistan. The only
guarantee for freedom of expression and pluralism is the courage of individual
independent journalists and the support of the international community.
I would like to thank CPJ again for this honor, and I dedicate this award
to all independent writers and journalists in Afghanistan. I hope that
in the future, you my fellow journalists will write about
Afghanistan not only in wartime, but also in times of peace.
(The international community should not only remember human rights in
Afghanistan when it affects them.)
Jamai is the publisher of Morocco's groundbreaking
weekly newspaper Le Journal Hebdomadaire and its sister publication,
Assahifa al Ousbouiya. Since they were founded in the late 1990s
under the names Le Journal and Assahifa, the papers have
boldly staked out new terrain in Moroccan journalism through tough investigative
reporting on government corruption, corporate impropriety, and feature
stories about taboo political topics. In 2000, the government closed both
papers for publishing a letter tying a former prime minister to a 1972
assassination plot against King Hassan II. After re-launching the papers
under new names, Jamai and a colleague were convicted in 2001 of defaming
the foreign minister in an investigative article that accused him of corruption.
They were sentenced to several months in prison and were ordered to pay
fines and damages totaling nearly US$200,000. The journalists remain free
pending an appeal.
Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,
I share this award with Ali Lmrabet and Mohammed Lhourd, my two fellow Moroccan
journalists who are today in jail. They have committed the crime of displeasing
the Moroccan authorities with their writings. And I share this award with
Ali Amar and Fadel Iraki, the two other co-founders of Le Journal and Assahifa.
I also share this award with all the Moroccan and Arab journalists who,
years before we even thought of embracing this profession, fought to extend
the limits of freedom. Finally, I share this award with my father, Khaled
Jamai, who, as a journalist, was imprisoned and tortured by the Moroccan
secret police in 1973.
The regression of press freedom in our country is illustrated by the repeated
bans of our newspapers, an ongoing advertising boycott against them, and
also by the adoption of a repressive press law. Knowing that the Moroccan
constitution does not allow for separation of powers, you can imagine the
difficulties faced by those of us who are trying to promote freedom of speech
and freedom of the press.
It is no coincidence that this regression happened at about the same time
as the U.S.-led war on terrorism. In using this war as a pretext, the government
is clipping the wings of our society. The current message of American foreign
policy to Arab and Muslim people is the promotion of democracy and the respect
of the human rights. But what kind of credibility should we give to this
when "interrogations" of suspected terrorists are being subcontracted to
the Moroccan secret police, as it was revealed in the American press? How
credible is this message when Radio Sawa-a station funded by the U.S. government
to convey its views to the Arab world-is allowed to transmit in Morocco
when ordinary Moroccans have no right to do so? These policies are not draining
the swamp—they are expanding it.
All of this makes CPJ's work even more indispensable. By honoring me and
my newspapers, CPJ recognizes our vibrant civil society, without which our
work would have been impossible. In doing so, all of you here tonight are
reaching out to the vast majority of Moroccans who seek freedom and liberty.
You give true meaning to the notion of universal principles and in the process
are making our world a better place. My deepest thanks to CPJ and to you
for helping them in this wonderful mission.
Muradov is the editor-in-chief of Chechnya's
only truly independent publication, the weekly Groznensky Rabochy.
Muradov has been repeatedly harassed and threatened by both Russian federal
authorities and by Chechen rebels because he refuses to allow Groznensky
Rabochy to become a mouthpiece for either side in the ongoing civil
conflict. In 1996, one of Muradov's reporters was killed in crossfire,
and Muradov himself was trapped in a basement for 14 days because of the
intense shelling of the capital, Grozny. In 1999, another reporter was
killed and a bomb destroyed the paper's editorial offices, forcing Muradov
to flee Chechnya. He continues to edit the weekly from Moscow and distribute
it in Chechnya despite increased government restrictions on media coverage
of the conflict.
Ladies and Gentlemen! I feel somewhat awkward. First of all, this is
the first time in my life that I am honored to speak in front of such
a distinguished audience. Second, as you can imagine, I have not had a
chance to wear a tuxedo in Chechnya.
It is symbolic that I have received this award from an American organization.
Just recently a well known American helped me defend freedom of expression
in a difficult situation. You will never guess who former U.S. President
Ronald Reagan. After I published an article criticizing the presidential
elections held in Chechnya in October, president elect Akhmad Kadyrov
became angry with me. I reminded him of Reagan's words during his first
press conference as president. "I don't want to quarrel with you guys,"
he said to the American journalists. Mr. Kadyrov answered: "OK, we too
can be friends."
On a more serious note, as an editor-in-chief and journalist, I have never
sought to be friends with authorities. In my opinion, close friendship
between the media and authorities is not beneficial to independent journalism.
Meanwhile, journalism, which is not independent of the government, cannot
fulfill its principal function to be a means, by which society
can monitor those in authority.
Many of my Russian and Chechen colleagues have received various awards
from the government. But I did not envy them. The government awards those
who do them favors. I see a journalist's role in a different way
to provide objective information to the reader, even if it does not please
I have been granted this award by a non-governmental organization that
defends independent journalists and press freedom. This is the biggest
award I could expect for my work. I will do my best to continue to be
worthy of this award. Thanks to those who selected me and thank you all
for coming here tonight to share this joyous moment with me.