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Canadian Internet pioneer Citizen Lab wins CJFE award

Ron Deibert, left, and other Citizen Lab researchers uncovered an Internet spy network and developed software to bypass censorship
Ron Deibert, left, and other Citizen Lab researchers uncovered an Internet spy network and developed software to bypass censorship

Glenn Lowson/Citizen Lab

The Citizen Lab, the Toronto-based centre that unearthed one of the largest Internet spying networks, is to be honoured by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). The lab has won CJFE's 2010 Vox Libera Award, granted annually to a Canadian individual or organisation dedicated to free expression.

"The Citizen Lab's fight for open communication and free expression is making a significant difference for those living in repressed regions of the world," said CBC broadcaster and CJFE board member Carol Off. "Their work enables people to share crucial information and exposes those who would try to do them harm."

The Citizen Lab, which runs out of the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies, gained prominence in 2009 after it uncovered an alleged Internet spy network being controlled almost exclusively from computers based in China. The lab found that nearly 1,300 computers in public and private offices in 103 countries, including the Dalai Lama's, were under surveillance.

The Citizen Lab also created the software psiphon, which helps internet users in repressive countries get around censorship.

CJFE is also honouring five journalists from Mexico and Cameroon with International Press Freedom Awards for their fearless reporting. Mexico's Luis Horacio Nájera spent more than 10 years reporting on government corruption and trafficking of drugs, people and weapons. Fearing for his life, he was forced to seek asylum in Canada. Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, also from Mexico, wrote several stories that offended the Mexican military; he eventually sought asylum in the United States.

In Cameroon, journalists Serge Sabouang, Robert Mintya and Bibi Ngota were arrested in February after obtaining a government document that allegedly implicates a top presidential aide of influence peddling and corruption. Ngota died in prison from undisclosed causes on 22 April. Sabouang and Mintya are being held at a pre-trial detention centre and face up to 15 years in jail.

The Citizen Lab and the five journalists will be honoured at the CJFE gala on 25 November to be attended by 500 Canadian journalists and free expression advocates.

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