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Statement by acting director of IPI, Alison Bethel McKenzie on Day 1 of the Vienna World Congress

Sep 20, 2010, 1:41 PM

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It brings me great pleasure to welcome you here tonight as we honor these heroic men and women.  As a journalist myself, I am deeply humbled this evening to be sharing the stage with such shining examples of our profession.

Since the founding of the International Press Institute 60 years ago, we have been committed clearly and steadfastly to this goal: safeguarding freedom of the press, and by extension - the people's right to know.

In 2000, during our 50th anniversary World Congress in Boston, we honored 50 men and women who have fought tirelessly in the pursuit of that goal. And this year, as we celebrate our 60th anniversary, we welcome another 10 journalists into the press freedom hero ranks.

Tonight we present our heroes not only with a certificate, and a crystal-embedded pen - representative of the words of truth they have written and spoken – but also a copy of our commemorative book: "Words of Freedom - A Tribute to 60 IPI World Press Freedom Heroes."  This book features photos and stories, chronicling the struggles of each one of our heroic colleagues.

They were nominated by our members from around the world and then selected by a jury under the following broad categories:

Press Freedom Fighters:

Those whom have made significant contribution to press freedom by providing independent news coverage, opinions and views in difficult and often dangerous conditions.

Press Freedom Martyrs:

Those whom were deliberately targeted and even killed because of their investigative journalism or their outspoken opinions.

And Press Freedom Defenders, Promoters or Protectors:

Those who have profoundly strengthened the free press in their own country, often risking their careers and professional reputations in the process.

As I call out the name of each hero this evening, I ask that you please hold your applause until the end.


Of our 60 heroes, 20 are able to be with us tonight. 

Eight of our press freedom heroes were unable to attend this evening's event:

We have with us here this evening 16 of our original 50 heroes.  I would invite them to please stand when I call their name and to remain standing. Ladies and Gentleman, it is with great honor that I present these press freedom fighters and defenders to you this evening.

From Algeria, Omar Belhouchet, who, through his critical writings in newspaper El Watan (Waton) was subject to three assassination attempts and ten prison sentences, but still continues to publish.

From Liberia, Kenneth Best, founder of Liberia's first independent daily newspaper, the Daily Observer and its sister paper in The Gambia, making him one of the few journalists to be harassed, threatened and persecuted.

From Niger, director of Radio Anfani, Gremah Boukar Koura, whose "open door" ethos to broadcasting gave the disgruntled everyman a chance to voice his anger at the oppressive government.

From Chile, former editor of news magazine Analisis, Juan Pablo Cardenas, who, despite repeated law suits, a nightly prison sentence and an arson attack on his home, continued to report on government corruption and the human rights abuses under the regime of General Pinochet.

Our hero from the Czech Republic, Jiri Dienstbier.  Forced to leave Czechoslovak Broadcasting after the Russian invasion of nineteen sixty eight, Dienstbier was arrested and imprisoned for his dissident literature.

From the UK: Harold Evans, who risked his professional reputation as the Editor of the Sunday Times to investigate and publish cases of the horrifying thalidomide-induced birth defects suffered by hundreds of British children.

From Vietnam: Doan Viet Hoat, former editor of the newsletter, Freedom Forum and who spent many years in prison for his dissident writing and publications, which eventually led to his expulsion from his homeland.

From Bosnia and Herzegovina: editor of Oslobodenje, or Liberation, newspaper Kemal Kurspahic. Despite the siege of Sarajevo, Kurspahic and his staff defied extremists to produce thousands of copies everyday.

From Palestine: Daoud Kuttab, a veteran journalist and media pioneer who has served as a vocal critic of both Israeli and Palestinian press censorship and campaigner for independent journalism in the Middle East.

From Namibia: Gwen Lister, whose newspaper, The Namibian, endured repeated official efforts, including gunfire and arson to force the paper out of publication, as well as surviving a direct attempt on her own life.

From Samoa: editor-in-chief of the Samoa Observer, Savea Sano Malifa, who has suffered threats against his staff and his family, as well as himself, but has continued to publish, determined to eliminate corruption and improve government transparency.

From Serbia: Veran Matic, editor in chief of Belgrade-based radio station B92, which earned the ire of Milosevic for opposing nationalism and publicly supporting anti-war activities during the break-up of Former Yugoslavia.

From Zambia: Fred M’membe, who even as recently as a few months ago we did not think would be able to join us tonight due to his arrest for contempt of court for publishing a critical op-ed in The Post newspaper, at which he is the editor.

From Iran: Faraj Sarkohi, founder and editor of Adineh magazine, who suffered interrogations, beatings and death threats during his “disappearance” in the mid-nineties, accused of spreading illegal propaganda and slandering the Islamic Republic.

From Peru: Ricardo Uceda (U-se-dah), investigative journalist and editor of the weekly Si, who has withstood both legal and physical threats to keep his sources hidden and his revelatory stories published.

And from Guatemala: Jose Ruben Zamora, founder of three of the countries most influential newspapers, which he has continued to publish and edit despite being kidnapped, beaten and held at gun point for his anti-government articles.

Before I present our new heroes with their pens and book, I would first like to finally deliver our award to our hero from Syria, Nizar Nayouf.  In two thousand, Mr. Nayouf had been held in prison since nineteen ninety two for disseminating supposedly false information.  He is now based in London, where he is editor in chief of Syria Truth, through which he tirelessly campaigns on behalf of political prisoners and highlights abuses of press freedom across the Arab World.  Our hero from Syria, Nizar Nayouf.

In two thousand and seven, we added another journalist to our World Press Freedom Heroes: Investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.  Found shot dead in the elevator of her apartment block in October two thousand and six, Ms. Politkovskaya's death was shocking even in Russia, which has an appalling record for journalists' safety.  As Editor in Chief of one of Russia's few remaining independent newspapers, Novaya Gazeta, Ms. Politkovskaya wrote passionately about the plight of the Chechen people - reports the state-owned papers tried to quash.  Even before her untimely death, Ms. Politkovskaya had suffered torture, poisoning and a mock execution, but still this did not deter her reporting. Our hero from Russia, Anna Politkovskaya.

In two thousand and eight, we honored our fifty second hero, and our second hero from Turkey: Hrant Dink.  As the founder, editor-in-chief, reporter and columnist of bilingual weekly newspaper Agos, Mr. Dink was a champion of human and minority rights, particularly those of his own Armenian community.  Mr. Dink came under fire for his reporting, accused of "insulting Turkish identity".  After receiving numerous death threats, this prominent member and voice of the Armenian community in Turkey was shot twice in the head and once in the neck by a seventeen year old ultra nationalist Turk.  Our hero from Turkey, Hrant Dink.

In March this year, our sixtieth year, we extended the honor of World Press Freedom Hero to a further eight journalists, four of whom are not able to be here this evening.

From South Africa: Laurence Gandar, who, as editor of the English-language newspaper the Rand Daily Mail, stood out as a firm, solitary voice against apartheid, pleading for political emancipation of black South Africans and economic integration.  Mr. Gandar had his passport removed, his paper's offices were fired at, and his was eventually dismissed as editor after the paper's board became increasingly uneasy. As editor and later editor-in-chief, his liberal philosophy was present throughout the Rand Daily Mail, investigating and reporting on government attempts at social engineering by forcibly removing blacks from their homes and ghettoizing them as well as exposing the horrendous treatment of blacks in prison, which led to fines and convictions for Gandar and his reporters, but also the improvement of prison conditions.  Mr. Gandar passed away in nineteen ninety eight.  Our hero from South Africa, Laurence Gandar.

From Sri Lanka: Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader.  Mr. Wickrematunge was so sure his critical reporting of the government, exposing corruption and bad governance, would lead to his demise that he wrote an editorial detailing the circumstance under which he expected to die - an editorial which became his own obituary – months before his eventual assassination.  Despite numerous threats on his life, which included he and his wife being beaten with clubs and his home sprayed with automatic gunfire, as well as his printing presses being burnt down twice - none of this deterred Mr. Wickrematunge in his attempts to uncover the truth.  His courageous writings earned him the name "Leader of the Opposition" by the people who read his paper.  Mr. Wickrematunge was shot on his way to work in two thousand and nine.  Our hero from Sri Lanka: Lasantha Wickrematunge.  Collecting the award on his behalf is his brother, Lal Wickrematunge.

From Mexico: journalist and human rights activist Lydia Cacho, who cannot be with us tonight due to illness.  As an ardent supporter of women's rights, Ms. Cacho has written and broadcast extensively about violence against women in her home country and across Latin America, uncovering the truth behind child prostitutes, battered women and pornography.  Exposing high-profile businessmen and politicians and their roles in a child pornography and prostitution, led to Ms. Cacho's arrest and torture. But like so many others of our heroes honored here tonight, Ms. Cacho did not give up.  She sued the local government for breach of her human rights and was successful, and her writing led to the conviction of a man involved in the pornography ring.  Despite the authorities and their powerful friends in business, Ms. Cacho could not be silenced.  Our hero from Mexico: Lydia Cacho.

From Cuba: blogger and writer, Yoani Sanchez.  Ms. Sanchez is not with us this evening as she was not granted an exit visa to leave Cuba.  This is by no means the first award she has not been able to collect.  Through her writings on her blog Generacion Y. Ms. Sanchez has given the outside world a view of Cuba rarely seen, a view the Cuban government does not want you to see.  They have not made it easy for Ms. Sanchez to post her comments online.  She had to register her website through a friend in Germany and since two thousand and eight her site has been blocked within Cuba.  Despite this wall of censorship, Ms. Sanchez has continued to post to her blog thanks to her many readers, who post her writings, which she sends via email.  Our hero from Cuba: Yoani Sanchez.  Ms Sanchez has written a speech she would like read on her behalf, this is the translation: [see Yoani Sanchez speech]

From Lebanon:  May Chidiac. At Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, she was an editor, news anchor and political talk show host for the channel, and became known as for being among the few to publicly challenge Syrian hegemony over Lebanon.  After the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Ms. Chidiac too became victim of a series of assassination attempts of prominent public figures.  In August two thousand and five a bomb was placed under Ms. Chidiac’s car, exploding and causing her to lose her left arm and part of her left leg.  Despite this, Ms. Chidiac was back on the air just ten months later.  She is now teaching the next generation of Lebanese journalists.  Our hero from Lebanon: May Chidiac.

From Iran: writer Akbar Ganji.  Also known as one of Iran’s most prominent political dissidents, Mr. Ganji has written extensively about his disillusionment with the Islamic Republic.  Speaking out against the Republic and exposing the brutal “chain murders” in the nineteen nineties of several prominent journalists, Mr. Ganji’s book “The Dungeon of Ghosts” has been credited with the defeat of several conservative candidates in the two thousand election.  Shortly afterwards, Mr. Ganji was arrested and accused of endangering national security and spreading propaganda and sentenced to six years in prison.  Much of those six years were spent in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.  During his time in prison and after his self-imposed exile from Iran, Mr. Ganji has continued to write, campaigning for freedom and liberty for Iran.  Our hero from Iran: Akbar Ganji.

From The Gambia: Pap Saine, managing director, co-founder and editor of the Point newspaper.  Through his newspaper he has provided an outlet for the expression of divergent views and opinions, championing press freedom in his country. Despite the practical challenges of lack of office space, publishing equipment and computers, Mr. Saine pushed ahead with his newspaper, under the motto: “For Freedom and Democracy”. It could be recalled that Saine was last year faced three trials and later jailed for two years. He was however given a presidential pardon.