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WAN awards 2008 Golden Pen of Freedom prize to persecuted Chinese journalist

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a 20 November 2007 WAN press release:

Chinese Journalist Wins Golden Pen of Freedom

Vienna, Austria, 20 November 2008 - Li Changqing, a Chinese journalist who was imprisoned for alerting the public to an outbreak of dengue fever before the authorities, has been awarded the 2008 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers.

It is the second consecutive year that a Chinese journalist has received the award, an unprecedented decision that reflects the repressive conditions for media in China. The 2007 laureate was Shi Tao, the Chinese journalist who was imprisoned after the American search engine company Yahoo provided information to the Chinese authorities that led to his arrest.

"The persecution of Mr. Li for reporting on a serious health threat reveals the nonsense and bankruptcy of the Chinese regime's controlled press policies," the Board of the Paris-based WAN, meeting in Vienna, said in making the award.

"The Chinese authorities have a long history of covering up events they prefer to keep secret, and Mr. Li's courageous decision to report on this outbreak, knowing the possible consequences, is an inspiration to journalists everywhere," the Board said.

The award will be presented at the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, the global summit meetings of the world's press, to be held in Göteborg, Sweden, from 1 to 4 June next year (http://www.wansweden2008.com ).

The award comes a day after WAN launched a campaign to win the release of all jailed Chinese journalists, and to hold the Chinese authorities to the promises of reforms they made when they were awarded next summer's Olympics. More information can be found at http://www.wan-press.org/article15588.html

Mr. Li, a reporter and deputy news director of the Fuzhou Daily in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province, was sentenced to three years in prison in January 2006, for "fabricating and spreading false information" after being detained without charges for nearly a year. The charges stem from an anonymous report posted on Boxun News Network, a Chinese-language website based in the United States.

Due to censorship and restrictions imposed by the Communist Party Propaganda Department on sensitive social issues, no reports of the outbreak in Fuzhou of dengue, a viral, mosquito-borne disease, had been reported in the Chinese press. Nor had health officials officially announced the outbreak.

Chinese authorities had previously been criticised for suppressing reports, with disastrous consequences, of an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, that occurred in Guandong Province in 2002.

Mr. Li reported on government corruption and other sensitive social issues before being imprisoned. He was detained in 2005 on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power", allegedly for writing in support of whistleblower Huang Jingao, a Communist Party official who publicly denounced corruption among local officials and was imprisoned on corruption charges as a result. Though Mr. Li was never charged in that case, he was held for more than 11 months, until he was tried and convicted for reporting on the dengue fever outbreak.

China is one of the world's largest jailers of journalists, with about 40 behind bars. Other journalists have been harassed, detained, threatened or dismissed from their jobs because of their reporting. Media outlets are forbidden to promote political reform, cover internal party politics or the inner workings of the government, criticise Beijing's domestic and international policies, or reporting financial data that the government has not released. Because all stories are potentially subject to pre-publication censorship, many reporters avoid certain topics or otherwise practice self-censorship.

The WAN Board called for the immediate release of Mr Li and other imprisoned Chinese journalists.

WAN, the global association of the newspaper industry, has awarded the Golden Pen annually since 1961. Past winners include Argentina's Jacobo Timerman (1980), South Africa's Anthony Heard (1986), China's Dai Qing (1992), Vietnam's Doan Viet Hoat (1998), Zimbabwe's Geoffrey Nyarota (2002), and Iran's Akbar Ganji (2006).

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 10 regional and world-wide press groups.

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