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AMNESTY AWARDS RECOGNISE PERSECUTED JOURNALISTS

Amnesty International UK recognised persecuted journalists around the world at its annual media awards in London on 17 June.

Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, former editor of Yemen's political weekly newspaper "Al-Shora", won the 2008 Special Award for Human Rights Journalism under Threat. Just a week earlier Al-Khaiwani was sentenced to six years in jail for his coverage of armed clashes in the northern Yemeni province of Sa'da.

Amnesty UK's media director, Mike Blakemore, said, "Our message is simple: no journalist anywhere in the world should be attacked or imprisoned simply for doing their job."

Shortlisted for the award was Aqil Khalil (Xalil), a correspondent with the Azerbaijan newspaper "Azadliq", identified by Amnesty as at risk because of his journalism. In March 2008 Khalil was stabbed in the chest by four unknown assailants and was seriously injured. Other "Azadliq" journalists have also been assaulted and the paper has been the subject of government-backed actions seemingly designed to silence it.

Amnesty's New Media Award was made posthumously to Iraqi journalist Sahar al-Haideri, who was shot dead just weeks after the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) published her article "'Honour killing' sparks fears of new Iraqi conflict" on its website.

Alan Johnston, who won Amnesty's radio award last year on the very day he was released from captivity in Gaza, Palestine, said Al-Khaiwani "is a man who has already endured the horrors of prison because of the stand that he's taken. Despite that, he is determined to continue his work and has of course just been jailed again. That is an act of courage."

Reflecting on his own kidnap ordeal, Johnston said, "I benefited hugely from an extraordinary amount of public support when I was in captivity, and for that I will always be grateful. But of course there are so many journalists in countries like Iraq, Sri Lanka and the Philippines who go largely unnoticed by the outside world as they endure extraordinary pressures."

Al-Khaiwani's articles in "Al-Shora" have criticised government policy in the north, where hundreds of people are believed to have been killed or forcibly displaced since 2004. The government has denied journalists and almost all independent observers access to the area, and maintained a high degree of censorship. Al-Khaiwani has endured years of harassment, Amnesty notes, including detention, beatings, intimidation and death threats.

Speaking shortly before he was imprisoned, Al-Khaiwani said, 'The authorities in Yemen are trying to silence me and they even appear to be prepared to lock me up to keep me quiet. I definitely don't want to go to prison again just for doing my job as a journalist, but at the same time I'm not prepared to censor myself for an easy life."

Other media award winners included Xan Rice of "The Guardian," Al Jazeera English, "The Times", IWPR, BBC Scotland (television), "Live" ("Mail on Sunday" magazine), "Newsweek", Radio 4 and ITV News. IFEX member Index on Censorship was honoured for its coverage of media freedom in Russia.

Visit these links:
- Amnesty International UK awards: http://tinyurl.com/64p8p8
- CPJ letter on Khalil: http://tinyurl.com/5tyqhu
- Restrictions on Khalil: http://tinyurl.com/4blvpx
- Al-Khaiwani sentencing, appeal and blog: http://tinyurl.com/5mw7n3
(Al-Khaiwani photo courtesy of Worldpress.org)

(24 June 2008)

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