CJFE Gala Puts Free Expression on Centre Stage

Thursday, November 14, 2002
Lira Bayseitova of Kazakhstan, and the three co-founders of the Somali radio and television network HornAfrik Media Inc. were honoured November 13 for their work in upholding freedom of the press under challenging conditions at the fifth annual Canadian Journalists for Free Expression International Press Freedom Awards Dinner, the signature event of the year for Canada's journalistic community and its supporters. Bayseitova and the three co-founders of HornAfrik were honoured at the event attend by more than 500 journalists, editors, publishers, producers and other friends of free expression gathered at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto to honour the courage of Canadian and international journalists. The Hon. Bill Graham, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, was the keynote speaker. "To have the support of Canadian public for the international community of journalists fighting to be heard is truly gratifying," says Joel Ruimy, CJFE's executive director. "This year's winners have overcome hardships in their careers and personal lives that most of us cannot imagine. We are honoured to recognize them here tonight." Bayseitova wrote a courageous exposé of Swiss bank accounts belonging to senior Kazakhstani government officials. Although she had been threatened previously for writing the stories, she never expected what happened next: her 25-year-old daughter, Leila, was arrested on drug charges. While in jail, police said, Leila tried to hang herself. She lapsed into a five-day coma and died. An investigation by the free-expression group Reporters Without Borders found plenty of inconsistencies and has labelled Leila's death as suspicious. Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, Mohamed Mohamud Elmi and Ali Iman Sharmarke fled the brutal civil war in their native Somalia to settle in Canada, eventually becoming Canadian citizens. When calm returned to Somalia, they went back, too. The three co-founded HornAfrik Media Inc., Somalia's first independent journalistic voice. The radio and television network features call-in shows, public-affairs journalism and coverage of the Somali peace talks, and has been credited with helping to rebuild the shattered country. There was also a special tribute to Kathleen Kenna, the Canadian journalist seriously injured last March while covering the war in Afghanistan for the Toronto Star. Previous speakers at the CJFE event have included author and journalist Michael Ignatieff, Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and Louise Arbour, former UN Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. Lloyd Robertson, the veteran host of CTV News, was this year's master of ceremonies. Co-chairs of the benefit were journalist Ann Medina and Rob Prichard, President and CEO of Torstar Corp. Money raised at the benefit dinner will go to the Journalists in Distress Fund and to other CJFE press-freedom and free-expression work. For more information, contact Joel Ruimy at (416) 515-9622 or e-mail: ruimy@cjfe.org

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