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IRAQI, AFGHAN AND SOMALI REPORTERS WIN CJFE PRESS FREEDOM AWARDS

Two women journalists who worked in "impossible war-time conditions" are this year's winners of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression's (CJFE) International Press Freedom Awards. The awards honour journalists for their commitment to freedom of expression and overcoming tremendous odds to report news.

Farida Nekzad works as a journalist promoting press freedom and women's rights in Afghanistan. She is the current editor-in-chief of Pajhwok News Agency, the only independent news agency in Afghanistan. Nekzad encourages women to take advantage of the opportunities available to them as a result of the ousting of the Taliban. But recently, Nekzad has become the target of a series of harassments and threats, and has resorted to changing her daily routine. Nonetheless, she is committed to staying in Afghanistan.

A dedicated journalist who knew her life was in danger, Sahar al-Haideri was killed in June in Iraq. She wrote in the most dangerous circumstances, challenging and exposing the human rights violations of the extremist groups in her home town, Mosul. She worked with ARTICLE 19 and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, as well as for a number of news agencies, including the National Iraqi News Agency and the independent Voices of Iraq. For about a year before her death, some of al-Haideri's articles were printed under a pseudonym, and her husband and four children had moved to Syria to escape persecution.

"Our psychological state is unbalanced because we live and think in fear and worry, and always think about our destiny and that of our family members, relatives and friends," al-Haideri told the UK's "Press Gazette" earlier this year, on being a journalist in Iraq. "But I have never thought about quitting, as journalism is my life and I really love it."

Ali Iman Sharmarke is the recipient of the Tara Singh Hayer Award, which recognises Canadians for courage in journalism. Sharmarke returned to his homeland of Somalia in 1999 to help rebuild the media in the war-shattered country, and was one of the three founders of radio station HornAfrik. He was killed on 11 August, when his car drove over a remote-controlled landmine on his way home from a funeral of another journalist, Mahad Ahmed Elmi.

"We feel this year's winners represent the best of the local journalists, working in impossible war-time conditions, and never giving up until they get the story out," said chair of the awards committee, Carol Off. "The fact that two out of three of our winners have died for their work is a stark reminder of how dangerous that work can be."

In the 10 years since the awards inception, approximately 1,000 journalists have been killed on the job. CJFE is planning to mark the 10th anniversary with a retrospective of past award winners and their struggles to report the news in a dangerous world.

The gala awards ceremony will be held on 1 November in Toronto.

For more details of the awards and winners, see: http://www.cjfe.org/awards06/index.html

(2 October 2007)

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