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CPJ to honour four courageous journalists with International Press Freedom Awards

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is an abridged CPJ press release:


New York, September 24, 2007 - The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor four courageous journalists from Russia, Pakistan, China, and Mexico with 2007 International Press Freedom Awards in November. Each has put their life or liberty on the line to report on stories of global significance.

Dmitry Muratov of Russia, Mazhar Abbas of Pakistan, Adela Navarro Bello of Mexico, and Gao Qinrong of China have reported on the news, despite death threats, harassment, and imprisonment.

Tom Brokaw, longtime anchor of NBC News, award-winning reporter, and best-selling author, will receive CPJ's Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement. Brokaw has been a member of CPJ's board of directors since 1993.

"This is an exceptional group of courageous journalists from some of the most dangerous countries for reporters on earth," CPJ Board Chairman Paul Steiger said in announcing the awards. "We honor their commitment to reporting the news in the face of tremendous risk."

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said: "These journalists are being honored not only for the extraordinary stories they have reported but also because of their courageous fight for press freedom. Muratov, Abbas, and Navarro have fought for justice on behalf of their slain colleagues, while Gao has not been deterred by eight years of prison.

"Autocrats, drug traffickers, and corrupt officials have all been exposed by these enterprising journalists. They inspire us with their bravery. With these awards, CPJ hopes to spotlight countries with poor press freedom records and strengthen protections for journalists worldwide."

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Dmitry Muratov is editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, the only truly critical newspaper with national influence in Russia today. He founded the paper in 1993 and is still its driving force. Novaya Gazeta, with a staff of 60, is known for its in-depth investigations on sensitive issues such as high-level corruption, human rights violations, and abuse of power. It has paid a heavy price for this pioneering work; three of its reporters have been killed. The most recent casualty was investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who gained international recognition for her independent coverage of Chechnya and the North Caucasus.

In 1993, five years after leaving the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, Muratov and some 50 colleagues started Novaya Gazeta with the goal of creating "an honest, independent, and rich" publication that would influence national policy. It was a lofty goal considering they began with two computers, one printer, two rooms, and no money for salaries. An initial boost came from former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who donated part of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize award to pay for computers and salaries. By 1996, Novaya Gazeta's circulation had risen to 70,000 from its initial run of 10,000 copies.

Despite the Kremlin's success in marginalizing independent reporting, Novaya Gazeta continues to wield considerable influence with its uniquely uncompromising editorial line.

Mazhar Abbas is a well-known champion of press freedom in Pakistan who has worked as a journalist for 27 years and has endured repeated threats as a result of his work. He is deputy director of ARY One World Television, an Urdu and Hindi-language channel is the first bilingual, 24-hour news channel from Pakistan and secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

In May, he was one of three journalists who found bullets in white envelopes attached to their cars when they came out of a late night meeting at the Karachi press club. He was on the hit list of the Mohajir Rabita Council, an ethnic political group in Pakistan's southern province of Sindh, which is allied with President Pervez Musharraf. Abbas was also charged by police earlier this year after protesting the closure of three independent TV channels for reporting on anti-Musharraf demonstrations.

At the union, Abbas is leading the opposition against the Musharraf administration's attempts to silence press criticism of the faltering military government. As an AFP correspondent in Karachi, he covered the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal South Asia Bureau Chief Daniel Pearl in 2002, and the following investigations and trials.

Adela Navarro Bello, 39, is the general director of the weekly magazine Zeta in the border city of Tijuana, Mexico. Created in 1980, Zeta is one of the only publications to regularly run investigations on organized crime, drug trafficking, and corruption in Mexico's northern states, where self-censorship is rampant. The cost of Zeta's coverage of crime along the U.S.-Mexico border has been high: Héctor Félix Miranda, co-founder of the magazine, was killed in 1988, and co-editor Francisco Ortiz Franco was murdered in 2004.

Navarro too has received repeated death threats. In 1997, after an assassination attempt against J. Jesús Blancornelas, the founder and then director of Zeta, in which one of his bodyguards was killed, Mexican authorities provided Navarro with a bulletproof vest and two bodyguards. Blancornelas won this award in 1996 and passed away last year. Before becoming general director, Navarro worked as a writer, columnist, and a member of the editorial board. In 1994, she covered the Chiapas conflict for the magazine. Since then, she has interviewed presidents, ministers, governors, and leaders of Mexican political parties. Today, she writes the column "Sortilegioz."

Gao Qinrong, who worked as a reporter for China's official Xinhua News Agency in the northern province of Shanxi, was released last year after spending eight years in prison. In 1998, the investigative reporter exposed a scam irrigation project in his home province; Xinhua didn't publish the report but it was circulated in the internal edition of People's Daily, which is distributed to Communist Party leaders. When the story went on to attract national media attention from other news outlets, local officials blamed Gao. He was charged with a laundry list of crimes, including embezzlement, fraud, and even pimping, and sentenced to a 12-year jail term. After his early release for good behavior - he ran a prison newspaper - Gao gave lengthy interviews to Chinese and international news organizations. Before it was shut down domestically, coverage of his case drew new attention to the issue of press freedom in China. Gao is struggling to get the charges against him dropped so he can return to working as a reporter.

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To read the complete press release, see:

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