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CPI To Honor Four Brave Journalists

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is an 11 October 2006 CPJ press release:

On Its 25th Anniversary, CPI To Honor Four Brave Journalists

New York, October 11, 2006 - The Committee to Protect Journalists will honor four journalists - from Colombia, Yemen, the Gambia and Iraq - with its 2006 International Press Freedom Awards in November. The awards ceremony will also commemorate CPJ's 25th anniversary.

Jesús Abad Colorado of Colombia, Jamal Amer of Yemen, and Madi Ceesay of the Gambia have risked their lives to report the news, withstanding attacks, harassment, and imprisonment. CPJ will posthumously honor Atwar Bahjat, correspondent for Al-Arabiya satellite television and former Al-Jazeera reporter, who was gunned down while covering a bombing near Samarra, Iraq, in February.

Hodding Carter III, the respected newspaper editor, television journalist, foundation executive, and teacher, will receive CPJ's Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement.

"We honor these brave journalists from around the world for their tenacity in reporting the news at great personal risk and against great odds," CPJ Board Chairman Paul Steiger said in announcing the awards. "Their courage highlights the dangers journalists face today to get the story."

Said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon: "Exposing corruption, criticizing authorities for abuse of power, or reporting from the front line of local conflicts are just some of the ways these reporters do their jobs and inspire us. With these awards, CPJ hopes to strengthen protections for journalists worldwide."

The awards will be presented at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on Tuesday, November 21. Robert A. Iger, president and chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company, and John S. Carroll, Knight visiting lecturer at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University, will co-chair the black-tie dinner. CNN's Chief International Correspondent and CPJ board member Christiane Amanpour will host.

2006 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardees:

Atwar Bahjat, correspondent for Al-Arabiya and one of the best known war reporters in the Arab world, was murdered in Iraq in February along with her freelance cameraman, Khaled Mahmoud al-Falahi, and engineer, Adnan Khairallah. Her bullet-riddled body was found near Samarra a day after the station lost contact with the crew. At the time of her death, Bahjat was on the outskirts of Samarra covering the bombing of the Shiite shrine Askariya, known as the Golden Mosque. According to a witness, her murderers arrived at the scene and demanded to know, "Where is the Al-Arabiya presenter?"

Bahjat, a 30-year-old Iraqi, had just joined Al-Arabiya after working as a correspondent for Al-Jazeera since 2003. She had previously worked for Iraqi TV under Saddam Hussein. She was known as a dogged street reporter who knew well the hardships endured by Iraqi reporters. In the course of her work, Bahjat received several death threats and survived a roadside bomb that destroyed her car, none of which deterred her from reporting. "She always liked to be a reporter in the field," recalled Al-Jazeera news anchor M'hamed Krichene who worked with her in Baghdad.

Jesús Abad Colorado is a freelance photographer who has witnessed some of the most violent clashes in Colombia's civil war, capturing powerful images of human rights abuses perpetrated by all sides in the conflict. As a provincial journalist, Abad knows the adversity faced by colleagues in strife-ridden areas outside the capital, where journalists routinely face threats of reprisal from guerrillas, paramilitaries, and local authorities. Abad, whose work is widely published in Colombia, has displayed great bravery and determination in reporting from the front line. He was kidnapped twice by leftist guerrillas; in one case, in October 2000, guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) abducted Abad at a roadblock and held him for two days.

Abad won acclaim for his work in the aftermath of a massacre in the town of San José de Apartadó in February 2005. His news account and photographs, published in the national daily El Tiempo, pointed to military involvement in the massacre and a pattern of close military-paramilitary cooperation in the region. Abad says his photographs tell a story of despair and serve as witness to people's resilience.

Jamal Amer is the courageous editor of one of Yemen's most independent weeklies, Al-Wasat, whose reporting on corruption, religious militancy, and sensitive political issues has triggered a number of frightening threats and attacks. In August 2005, he was seized by four men believed to be security agents and held for six hours. The assailants beat him, accused him of being paid by the U.S. and Kuwaiti governments, and warned him about defaming "officials." The men drove a blindfolded Amer to the top of a mountain, where they threatened to shoot him. His abduction shocked Yemeni journalists, who took it as an explicit warning against the sort of enterprising journalism that had been a mark of Al-Wasat. Just days before Amer's kidnapping, the paper ran a daring story alleging that several government officials were exploiting state scholarships to send their own children to study abroad. This year, pro-government newspapers have accused Amer of being an agent of the West, and h!
is family has been subjected to government surveillance.

Madi Ceesay is a veteran independent journalist from the Gambia who has suffered attacks and imprisonment for his work. He is also a leading press freedom activist, serving as president of the Gambia Press Union, which has spearheaded efforts to fight impunity for attacks on the press, including the unsolved December 2004 murder of prominent newspaper editor Deyda Hydara. In 2006, Ceesay took over as general manager of The Independent, a leading private paper that has suffered frequent official harassment and two unsolved arson attacks. In March, security forces sealed off The Independent's offices and detained staff after the paper published critical articles about a purported coup attempt. Ceesay and Editor Musa Saidykhan were held for three weeks without charge by the National Intelligence Agency. Before joining The Independent, Ceesay worked for 10 years for the respected independent weekly Gambia News and Report, first as a reporter and then as its deputy editor.

Burton Benjamin Memorial Award:

CPJ will honor Hodding Carter III, whose distinguished and diverse journalism career spans more than four decades, with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award, given for a lifetime of distinguished achievement in the cause of press freedom. The Burton Benjamin Award is named for the late CBS News senior producer and former CPJ chairman, who died in 1988.

Carter started working at his family's newspaper, the Greenville, Miss.-based daily, Delta Democrat-Times, in 1959 and went on to spend almost 18 years as a reporter, award-winning editorial writer, editor, and associate publisher of the paper. His father, Hodding Carter Jr., founded the paper in 1936 and won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials on racial and religious tolerance in 1946. Carter was also a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1955-56.

Carter worked on the presidential campaigns of Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. He served as spokesman for the State Department and as assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Carter administration from 1977 to 1980. He went on to a successful television career as reporter, anchor, and panelist for public affairs television programs, including "This Week with David Brinkley."

Carter was named Knight professor of public affairs journalism at the University of Maryland in 1994, leaving four years later to become president and CEO of the Knight Foundation. His dynamic tenure at the Knight Foundation included important support for local journalists in developing countries and journalists at risk. Carter stepped down in 2005 and joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is university professor of leadership and public policy.

Ends

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