Waldorf-Astoria Ballroom, November 25, 2003

Abdul Samay Hamed | Aboubakr Jamai | Musa Muradov

See photos of the benefit dinner

All photos: Doug Goodman   
Abdul 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.)

back to top

Aboubakr 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.

back to top

Musa 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 the authorities.

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.

back to top