CJFE Inaugurates Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award; Honours Journalists Persecuted in Mexico, Zimbabwe and Pakistan

Tuesday, November 16, 1999
Journalists from Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Mexico and Canada were honoured on 15 November 1999 at the second annual International Press Freedom Awards Dinner hosted by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) in Toronto. Mark Chavunduka and Raymond Choto of Zimbabwe, Zafaryab Ahmed of Pakistan and Jesús Barraza Zavala of Mexico received the 1999 CJFE Press Freedom Awards. Former Canadian editor of "Indo-Canadian Times" Tara Singh Hayer, who was murdered on 18 November 1998, was also honoured at the event with a commemorative plaque. The Honourable Madam Justice Louise Arbour, member of Canada's Supreme Court and recent United Nations Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, was the evening's guest speaker. The event, which was widely attended by members of the media, various government bodies, non-governmental organisations, corporations, and numerous journalists in exile in Canada. The International Press Freedom Awards are awarded to journalists from around the world "who have suffered personally and professionally in their pursuit of journalism and free expression." Chavunduka and Choto, journalists with the "Sunday Standard", faced illegal detention and torture for publishing "false information" that Zimbabwean authorities claimed could lead to general "fear and despondency." Charged under the 1960 Law and Order Maintenance Act, Chavunduka will appear before the court again on 4 January 2000. Upon receiving the award, the two journalists stated that even after all that they had suffered, they had no regrets about their actions and would continue to fight for press freedom in Zimbabwe. Ahmed, a Pakistani journalist, is presently living in exile in the United States, where he continues to write about human rights abuses and the gap between the rich and poor in Pakistan. He continues to face charges of treason and a possible death sentence for reporting on the murder of child activist Iqbal Masih. Ahmed stated that the award also recognises his colleagues who had died for carrying out their work in Pakistan. Barraza, editor of "Pulso", has received multiple threats for his work on drug trafficking and corruption within the Mexican government. Due to the dangerous situation Barraza faces, he was unable to travel to Canada to receive the award. Upon hearing that he was chosen for to be honoured, however, Barraza stated that the award serves two important purposes: "One, that those who want to assassinate me know that we're not alone; and two, that my "Pulso" colleagues share the job of knowing that our work is not in vain." In her keynote address, Justice Arbour stated that it can be difficult to report the "truth." She discussed the ways in which those who hold power can often manipulate the truth and then punish those who contradict them. She stated that she unequivocally disapproves of "silencing the press with tanks" and that all those present should "remain vigilant" by promoting press freedom around the world. The situation in the Balkans, among other disasters in the world, she attested, is "rooted in a memory suffering from incurable deficits." Justice Arbour also paid special tribute to the journalists who have covered the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as those journalists with whom she worked at the Tribunal. The banquet concluded with the announcement that the CJFE Canadian Press Freedom Award has been re-named the CJFE Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award in honour of the Canadian journalist who was killed in November 1998. Hayer, the prestigious former editor of the "Indo-Canadian Times", received numerous death threats, survived one assassination attempt and was then killed last year for his outspoken coverage of the Indo-Canadian community. Hayer's son, David, and daughter-in-law, Isabelle, attended the event and received a commemorative plaque in Hayer's name. Isabelle Hayer stated that "all the support we have received in Canada and internationally have meant a lot to those of us who continue to work on our father's paper." The Hayers noted that their father's case demonstrates that attacks on press freedom can take place in Canada and that Hayer's dedication should give courage to all journalists who are persecuted for their work. Hayer is the first journalist to be killed for his work in Canada. Thus far, no charges have been laid for the murder.

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