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2009 Press Freedom Awards

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Freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy and a fundamental human right. Too often those engaged in reporting the news do so at great personal risk. This year the Committee to Protect Journalists is honoring 4 reporters for their courage in the face of imprisonment, threats of violence, and censorship.

The first honoree is Mustafa Haji Abdinur of Somalia. He has seen 6 of his colleagues die this year on the streets of Mogadishu -- caught in crossfire of battling insurgents, or gunned down for their work. Mr. Abdinur is editor-in-chief of independent radio station Radio Simba. His work has made him a target of both Islamic insurgents and government authorities. Despite receiving death threats, Mr. Abdinur courageously continues to report the news.

Naziha Rejiba is an editor in Tunisia of the independent online news journal Kalima, which is blocked by the government. Ms. Rejiba, also known as "Um Ziad," is one of Tunisia's most influential journalists. In a country where the media is heavily restricted and the government actively harasses the few independent journalists who attempt to write critically of the government and domestic political climate, Ms. Rejiba, has been the target of intimidation and harassment since November 1987.

In October 2008, Kalima was hacked into and its archives destroyed. When Ms. Rejiba wrote an article accusing the government of engineering the hacking of Kalima, she was summoned by the Tunisian courts. Although she has not been charged with a crime, lawyers have indicated that under Tunisia's press law she could still face up to 3 years in prison for publishing "false news."

The third award recipient is Eynulla Fatullayev. He is currently serving an 8-year prison term in Azerbaijan. In 2005, Mr. Fatullayev investigated the killing of his colleague, Elmar Huseynov, and concluded that the government was implicated in the murder. In 2007, after publishing his findings, Mr. Fatullayev received death threats and was ultimately charged with so-called terrorism for an analysis of Azerbaijan's policies toward Iran, on top of libel charges for which he had already been sentenced. He was convicted in October 2007.

J.S. Tissainayagam was the editor of a news web site OutreachSL and a columnist for the English-language Sri Lankan Sunday Times in Sri Lanka. On March 7th, 2008, he went to the offices of the Terrorism Investigation Division to ask about a colleague who had been arrested. He never made it home. Authorities detained Mr. Tissainayagam for 6 months before charging him with inciting "communal disharmony" for articles he had written 3 years earlier. In September 2009, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. President Barack Obama highlighted Mr. Tissainayagam's case during his World Press Freedom Day address in May.

Journalists, said President Obama, play an indispensable role in exposing abuses of power. "I lend my voice of support and admiration," said President Obama, "to all those brave men and women of the press who labor to expose truth and enhance accountability around the world."