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Golden Pen of Freedom Awarded to Sudan Journalist

From: The World Association of Newspapers (WAN)

Seoul, Korea, 30 May 2005 For immediate release

Golden Pen of Freedom Awarded to Sudanese Journalist

The World Association of Newspapers today awarded its annual press freedom prize, the 2005 Golden Pen of Freedom, to Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, a Sudanese editor, who has been fighting for press freedom for over half a century.

Mr Salih, 76, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Sudan's oldest independent newspaper, Al-Ayam, became a journalist in 1949 when Sudan was an Anglo-Egyptian colony.

"During my over half a century of working in this profession, I have experienced all types of constraints and harassments, including censorship, confiscation, banning, closure, nationalisation, intimidation and imprisonment," said Mr Salih. "Nothing kept us going except commitment to the profession and dedicated loyalty to its ideas."

The award was presented during the opening ceremonies of the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, the global meetings of the world's press. The ceremony was attended by the President of Korea, Roh Moo-Hyun, representatives of the diplomatic community, and more than 1,100 publishers and editors from newspapers in 80 countries.

"The Golden Pen of Freedom has been awarded annually since 1961 to recognise outstanding action by an individual, a group or an institution in the cause of press freedom. But today's award is far more than an annual prize, given the long, illustrious career of the 2005 laureate. In a sense, this Golden Pen of Freedom awarded to Mahjoub Mohamed Salih is a lifetime achievement award," said George Brock, President of the World Editors Forum, who presented the award.

Mr Salih established the Al-Ayam newspaper in 1958. It was closed twice by the military government in the 1960s, nationalised in 1970, and not returned to its owners until 1986. The newspaper was again closed by the government in 1989 for ten years. Since re-opening in 2000, the newspaper and its staff have been subjected to imprisonment, fines, confiscation and closure. The most recent closure was for three months beginning in November 2003. Mr Salih has been jailed numerous times for his journalistic activities.

Given the conditions under which he works, Mr Salih's contributions to the Sudanese independent press are nothing short of remarkable. Sudan has one of the most restrictive media environments on the African continent. The authorities have imposed a virtual news blackout and denied international observers access to the country. Security personnel routinely confiscate newspaper copies containing articles covering sensitive issues or deemed critical of the government.

Apart from a short period of peace, a civil war has been fought between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian south since independence in 1956. It is Africa's longest-running civil conflict. A peace agreement was signed in January 2005, but fighting continues in many parts of the country. The violence is at its worst in Darfur, where the United Nations estimates that 180,000 people have died in 18 months of conflict and some 2 million people have been forced to flee from their homes.

"I cannot help feeling that had the press been free in exposing these atrocities from the beginning of the conflict, peace would have been achieved years back and a lot of tragic miseries could have been avoided," said Mr Salih.

"We learn two principles from this lesson: one ? We must demand and acquire full freedom of information to create a really transparent world. Two ? we should work collectively to achieve and protect freedom of expression so that information is made available to all."

Read Mr Salih's full speech at: http://www-press.org/article7316.html

WAN has presented the Golden Pen of Freedom annually since 1961. Past winners include Argentina's Jacobo Timerman (1980), Russia's Sergei Grigoryants (1989), China's Gao Yu (1995), and Vietnam's Doan Viet Hoat (1998). The 2004 winner was Ruslan Sharipov of Uzbekistan.

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 72 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 11 news agencies and nine regional and world-wide press groups.

ENDS

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