Uzbek reporter receives press award

An Uzbek journalist in exile is among the winners of the International Press Freedom Awards for 2005.

Hundreds of Uzbek protesters were killed by troops in May
Hundreds of Uzbek protesters were killed by troops in May

Also honoured by the New-York based advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists at a ceremony on Tuesday evening, was a Chinese editor still imprisoned in his homeland, a Brazilian reporter who could not travel to New York because he is pinned down by lawsuits and a Zimbabwean media lawyer.

The laureates have endured beatings, threats and prison as a consequence of their work in a profession in which danger and death have become increasingly commonplace.

The advocacy group presented the 2005 awards to:

  • Galima Bukharbaeva, former Uzbekistan correspondent for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting
  • Lucio Flavio Pinto, publisher and editor of the Brazilian bimonthly newspaper Jornal Pessoal
  • Shi Tao, an imprisoned Chinese journalist, and 
  • Beatrice Mtetwa, a media lawyer in Zimbabwe

Bukharbaeva, now in exile in the United States, risked her life covering the killing of hundreds of protesters by government troops in the city of Andijan in May.

Police torture

The Uzbekistan journalist faces criminal prosecution for her reporting of the Andijan crisis, police torture, and the repression of Muslim activists.

Islam Karimov’s government’views free press as a danger’

Islam Karimov’s government
‘views free press as a danger’

“The massacre in the city of Andijan this past May, when President Islam Karimov’s government opened fire against its own people, showed, once again, the importance journalism plays in a society,” she said in her speech.
“Karimov’s repressive government realised that free press poses danger to their corrupt, brutal regime. And so, journalists who reported truthfully on what happened in Andijan were branded terrorists.
“Those who dared to remain in Uzbekistan are threatened and beaten every day. Because of this harsh treatment, now Uzbekistan is under-reported; we do not know what is going on in the country – how to act, how to react.” 

China crackdown

Shi Tao, a former freelance journalist for internet publications and an editor for Dangdai Shang Bao, a Chinese business newspaper, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for allegedly “leaking state secrets abroad”.

He posted notes from a directive issued by China’s Propaganda Department that instructed the media how to cover the 15th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square.

His essays on political reform, published on news websites outside China, drew the ire of Chinese authorities.
Brazil’s Amazon

Pinto has reported on drug trafficking, environmental devastation, and political and corporate corruption in a vast, remote region of Brazil’s Amazon, suffering physical assaults and death threats as a result of his work.

Lucio Flavio Pinto highlighted
environmental degradation 

He has also faced a constant barrage of civil and criminal lawsuits aimed at silencing him, which kept him from travelling to New York City to receive his award.

Pinto’s daughter, Juliana da Cunha Pinto, accepted on his behalf.

She delivered his acceptance speech from the heart of the Amazon. “In the 1960s, deforestation represented less than 1% of Amazonia,” Pinto wrote. “Today it is about 20%. It is a criminal loss of natural resources.

“I am sending you this forest appeal. Lay your bridges to this side of the world. Come aboard the challenge to build a civilization and forest culture in this Eden that the great creator delegated to his very human creations.”

Zimbabwe press war

Zimbabwe Mtetwa, a media lawyer in Zimbabwe, has continued to defend press freedom in her country, despite arrests and beatings.

She has won acquittals for several journalists facing criminal charges, including two British journalists who were arrested during April’s presidential election.
“After the government lost a constitutional referendum in 2000, it stepped up its war on the independent press,” Mtetwa said in her speech.

“It introduced new laws … under which it became a crime to practice journalism in Zimbabwe without government accreditation.”
The absence of a free press or independent radio in Zimbabwe, she said, means that people do not learn about “human rights abuses, food shortages, petrol shortages, the collapse of the health and education systems, and the breakdown of the rule of law”.
Cuban activist

A last-minute arrival at the ceremony was Manuel Vazquez Portal, who won an International Press Freedom award in 2003, but is only now out of a Cuban jail.

“In the beginning, there was the verb. It made humans free. It enabled them to express themselves. And freedom of expression is the genesis of all freedoms”

Manuel Vazquez Portal
Cuban journalist

Portal was one of 75 Cuban activists arrested in on charges of working with American officials to undermine Fidel Castro’s government – something the dissidents and the US government denies.

In his speech, Portal said: “In the beginning, there was the verb. It made humans free. It enabled them to express themselves. And freedom of expression is the genesis of all freedoms.

“The smell of jail is still on my skin. I was convicted for expressing what I thought, what I think. But there are no prisons that prevent thoughts nor jails that stop words. The crime became known. The real criminal was condemned. Truth was rewarded. Freedom of expression was the winner.”

US criticised

New York Times reporter Judith Miller has been jailed in the US

New York Times reporter Judith
Miller has been jailed in the US

Paul Steiger, CPJ board chairman and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, told the gathering: “In fact, from Iraq to China, and from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, it has been a terrible year for journalists in much of the world.

“But with a journalist jailed for months right here in the United States, with new legal threats emerging every day, with the US military stonewalling investigations into the deaths and detentions of journalists in Iraq, it has also been a terrible year for journalists in this country.” 

Steiger was referring to Judith Miller of The New York Times, jailed for refusing to disclose who told her that the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a Bush administration critic, was a CIA agent.

The source turned out to be Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. 

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