CJFE Press Freedom Award Winners Announced

Tuesday, October 7, 2003
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has awarded its Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award to Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian photojournalist murdered earlier this year in an Iranian prison. CJFE also awarded its 2003 International Press Freedom Awards to a journalist imprisoned in China for writing on the Internet and a Guatemalan journalist in hiding for his human-rights reporting. The winners will be honoured at CJFE’s sixth annual International Press Freedom Awards dinner November 6 at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel in Toronto. Keynote speaker at the dinner will be Gen. Romeo Dallaire (Ret’d), commander of the UN Observer Mission to Rwanda a decade ago. Award-winning CBC journalist Peter Mansbridge will host the event. More than 500 people, including many of Canada’s leading journalists, are expected to attend the benefit, co-chaired this year by Phillip Crawley, publisher and CEO of The Globe and Mail, and former Ontario Premier Bob Rae. Funds raised at the dinner, the premiere event for Canadian journalists, go towards the year-round work of CJFE in defense of freedom of expression and the rights of journalists. The Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award, honouring Canadian journalists who have faced enormous obstacles in the course of doing their jobs, was named in honour of the editor of the Indo-Canadian Times, murdered November 18, 1998. Hayer had continued to cover the Canadian Sikh community despite an assassination attempt in 1988 that left him partially paralysed. The International Press Freedom Awards honour journalists who overcome enormous odds to produce the news and who demonstrate a commitment to freedom of expression – often at great cost to themselves. CJFE is an association of more than 400 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others working to preserve and promote press freedom and freedom of expression in Canada and around the world. This year’s winners are: Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award Zahra Kazemi was born in Iran but left her native country in 1974 for France. She came to Canada in 1993 and eventually acquired Canadian citizenship. In the past 10 years, she has covered stories in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan as a freelance photojournalist. Her last assignment, for the Montreal-based magazine Recto-Verso, was in her native Iran. While there, she was arrested June 23 outside a notorious Tehran prison for taking photos of the building’s exterior. While in captivity, she suffered head injuries and died July 10. Iranian authorities at first said she suffered a stroke, then that she fell down some stairs. But they later admitted she was injured at the hands of her interrogator. An employee of Iranian national security is on trial in the case. Stephan Hachemi, Zahra’s son, will accept the award on his mother’s behalf. International Press Freedom Awards Xu Wei, China Xu, a recent college graduate and reporter with Xiaofei Ribao (Consumer Daily), was an active participant in the Xin Qingnian Xuehui (New Youth Study Group), an informal group who explored topics related to political and social reform and used the Internet to circulate relevant articles. Xu was arrested on March 13, 2001, and subsequently fired from his reporting job. He and three others were tried that September on charges that they intended to “overthrow the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership and the socialist system and subvert the regime of the people’s democratic leadership.” The trial focused on two essays, Be a New Citizen, Reform China and What’s to be Done?, which were circulated on the Internet. No verdict was pronounced until May 28, 2003 – more than two years after his arrest – when Xu was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He still is serving that term. Luis Alberto Perez Barillas, Guatemala Luis Alberto Perez Barillas operated a community radio station in the town of Rabinal, located in the department of Baja Verapaz. He is also the region’s correspondent for Prensa Libre, the highest-circulation national daily newspaper in Guatemala, and its sister publication Nuestro Diario. Perez Barillas has fearlessly reported on the alleged involvement of senior officials in the ruling FRG party in the massacre between 1978 and 1984 of 200,000 Guatemalans during a civil conflict that endures to this day. More than a quarter of the population of Perez Barillas’s hometown Rabinal perished in the massacres between 1981 and 1983. He has faced threats and physical attacks for his work since 2001. But things spiralled out of control when Perez Barillas received telephone death threats on June 23 and 24, 2003. And a week later, somebody made good on the threats when a homemade bomb was thrown into the journalist’s home. Perez Barillas went into hiding but there were new threats – this time a written note aimed at his sister and threatening her and her children if her brother failed to “shut up.” The journalist now lives in hiding, moving around in a variety of safehouses in Guatemala. His case has been championed by Amnesty International, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the UN Mission in Guatemala. For more information, please call Joel Ruimy at (416) 515-9622 or e-mail cjfe@cjfe.org

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