2002 Press Freedom Awards Winners Announced

Thursday, October 3, 2002
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has chosen a Kazakh journalist whose daughter died in police custody and three Somali-Canadians credited with rebuilding an independent media voice in Somalia as winners of this year's International Press Freedom Awards. The winners will be honoured in person at CJFE's fifth annual International Press Freedom Awards dinner November 13 at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto. Keynote speaker at the dinner will be Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham while longtime CTV News Anchor Lloyd Robertson will host. The awards honour journalists who overcome enormous odds to produce the news and demonstrate a commitment to freedom of expression - often at high cost to themselves. The CJFE dinner is the premiere Canadian event for senior Canadian journalists, along with corporate and NGO representatives. Its primary aim is to raise funds for CJFE's press-freedom activities around the world. The winners are: Lira Bayseitova Lira and Leila Bayseitova The former editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Respublika 2000, Bayseitova published an interview in the daily newspaper SolDat with a former public prosecutor from Switzerland who confirmed the existence of Swiss bank accounts held by several senior Kazakh officials, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Bayseitova's previous work had drawn threats and physical attacks. But her story took a nightmarish new turn when, following publication of her exposé, Lira's 25-year-old daughter, Leila, was arrested on drug charges and died June 21 while in police custody. Leila's arrest - police said she was a heroin addict - led to her death when, still according to police, she tried to hang herself in a jail cell using her jeans as a crude noose. A fact-finding mission by the press-freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders travelled to the Kazakh capital of Almaty to investigate. In a 20-page report released in August, RSF said the authorities' explanation of what happened to Leila is "riddled with discrepancies and not very convincing." Among the inconsistencies: a doctor who tested Leila's blood at the time she was placed in custody found no trace of illicit drugs in her blood. On preparing the body for the funeral, an undertaker discovered lesions and bruises consistent with a beating. These were photographed. Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, Mohamed Elmi and Ali Sharmarke, HornAfrik Media Inc. The trio fled the Somali conflict to come to Canada as refugees, winning citizenship and building lives for themselves here - two worked for the Ottawa-Carleton municipal government and the third for the federal Department of Finance. When relative calm returned to Somalia, the trio decided to return to their homeland. In December, 1999, they opened HornAfrik, the first independent radio network in the country. Its journalists - from many clans - have faced constant intimidation and threats in a society where there is no one to protest to, and no protection of press freedom. Co-founder Mohamed Elmi's driver was killed on a trip to North Mogadishu to install transmitting equipment. While it is not confirmed that HornAfrik was a target, it is a nonetheless telling episode. Recently, two of its reporters were also detained. Extreme religious fundamentalists are critical of HornAfrik's international links, particularly its decision to air Somali-language programming from the BBC and Voice of America. Undaunted, HornAfrik continues to air a selection of outside programs. But its biggest contribution has been to create a series of call-in programs that have become immensely popular across the country; every one of the country's warlords has logged at least one appearance on HornAfrik. HornAfrik is a remarkable media-rebuilding success story. Radio Netherlands has reported that "almost everyone listens to HornAfrik ... the station enjoys huge popularity." Prior to the launch of HornAfrik, the only radio stations in Somalia were those owned and operated by individual warlords who used them to propagate their own viewpoints. About CJFE CJFE is an association of more than 400 journalists, editors, producers, publishers, broadcasters, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world. The November 13 dinner begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto. To set up interviews with the winners, who will arrive in Canada prior to the dinner, please contact: Joel Ruimy, Executive Director CJFE, (416) 515-9622 x227 For more information on attending the dinner, please contact: Susanne Gossage or Loreli Bonaventura, Media Profile, (416) 504 8464

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