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12/1/02 - PRESS FREEDOM AWARDS - 2002-12-02

Journalists from four countries have received International Press Freedom Awards from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Three journalists -- from Bangladesh, Colombia, and Kazakhstan -- were on hand to receive their awards on November 26th in New York City. The fourth, Eritrean journalist Fesshaye Yohannes, could not attend. He has been imprisoned without charge in Eritrea since September 2001.

Mr. Yohannes has been a popular writer, reporter, and playwright in Eritrea. In 1994, he became the founding editor of the weekly newspaper Setit, which grew to have Eritrea’s largest circulation. But criticism from Setit and other independent media angered Eritrean officials. In September 2001, the government shut down virtually all independent publications and arrested many journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least eighteen members of Eritrea’s press corps, including Mr. Yohannes, remain in prison today.

Another journalist honored was Irina Petrushova [ir-REE-nah peh-TROO-shuh-vah] of Kazakhstan. She is founder and editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Respublika in Almaty. Ms. Petrushova’s paper has written extensively on corruption in Kazakhstan. As a result, she and other Respublika staffers have received many death threats. Last May, the office of Respublika was burned to the ground. In September, Ms. Petrushova moved to Moscow, but she continues to edit the newspaper from there.

Also receiving a press freedom award was Ignacio Gomez of Colombia. He was a reporter for the Bogota daily newspaper Espectador and more recently has been director of investigations for the television show, “Noticias Uno.” Mr. Gomez has also received numerous death threats. In 1989 and again in 2000, he had to spend time in exile from Colombia.

Another award-winner was Tipu Sultan [tee-poo sul-TAHN], a free-lance reporter in Bangladesh. In January 2001, he wrote an article for United News of Bangladesh accusing a politician in the district of Feni [FAY-nee] of criminal behavior. A week later, Mr. Sultan was nearly beaten to death. Fellow journalists helped to pay for a lengthy series of operations for Mr. Sultan. Today, he writes regularly for Prothom Alo [PRO-tom AH-lo], a leading daily newspaper in Bangladesh.

For holding those in power accountable, journalists often pay a high personal price. But as Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, pointed out, “There is no job more fundamental to journalism than watching a government’s performance [and] analyzing its policies and practices.”