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A Cuban reporter in prison, a radio station run by North Koreans, and two Burmese bloggers who have recently been given outrageous jail sentences are this year's winners of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) annual prize.

Ricardo González Alfonso of Cuba was named RSF's "2008 Journalist of the Year" for "helping an independent press to survive in Cuba." González, who founded Cuba's first independent magazine, was arrested on 18 March 2003 along with 26 other dissident journalists during the "Black Spring" crackdown. He was accused of being "in the pay of the United States" and "undermining Cuba's independence and territorial integrity," and is now serving a 20-year jail sentence in Havana.

The 2008 media prize went to Radio Free NK, a North Korean exile-run radio station based in Seoul. Thanks to a network of clandestine correspondents inside North Korea and in the Chinese border area, Free NK is able to broadcast exclusive news reports about the world's most closed country. But not without risk: RSF says the journalists at the station had often been threatened, and the manager has been under police protection since a plot to kill him was foiled.

Burmese bloggers Zarganar and Nay Phone Latt were jointly awarded the cyber-dissident award for using the Internet to promote free speech. Zarganar, a popular comedian, was jailed for 45 years in November for criticising the government response to Cyclone Nargis, and organising his own relief effort. Nay Phone Latt was found guilty of "creating public alarm" last month and sentenced to 20 years in jail. He was awarded the prize in recognition of the detailed blog he kept during the 2007 political uprisings in Burma.

RSF says that by granting the annual prizes, each worth 2,500 Euros (US$3,200), it hopes to alert the public to the "wide range of violations of the right to be kept informed and to inform others, and to the need for a commitment to supporting press freedom." In past years, several winners, such as Moroccan journalist Ali Lmrabet and Russian reporter Grigory Pasko, were released from prison just weeks or months after being awarded the prize.

For more on the awards, see:

(Photo: Ricardo González Alfonso of Cuba was named RSF's "2008 Journalist of the Year". Photo courtesy of RSF)

(10 December 2008)

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