It seems incredible in 2013 that there should still be so many deserving candidates for an award for journalists who risk death daily to expose the grim realities of the lives of their fellow citizens.
This year CJFE (Canadian Journalists for Free Expression) honours three charismatic young Eritreans who have personally and professionally been targeted by an increasingly oppressive regime. In 2001 Eritrea’s President wanting a more “co-operative” press, arbitrarily threw many journalists in jail. At least seven died. Apparently Eritrean journalists still weren’t “cooperative enough” and dozens more were rounded up and thrown in jail in 2009 and 2011. More died. And today in this terrorized country of six million, 30 courageous journalists cling to life and hope in appalling conditions in prison, just for doing their jobs.
Even in that repressive climate, courageous journalists keep working, sometimes forced into exile or writing online. Still looking for more “cooperation,” the Eritrean government now restricts internet access, and has a “shoot to kill” policy for anyone trying to leave the country. Yet….still they work.
Investigative reporter Ahmet Sik from Turkey was jailed for 376 days in his country and could still be imprisoned for 15 years for doing his work. Sik continues to investigate and report on injustice and corruption in his country because as he said at the CJFE Gala to honour courageous reporting: “I am a journalist and my job is to tell the truth.”
That is why we continue to be in awe and inspired by our colleagues: Mebrahtu Teclesion Berhe, Ruth Zecarias Ghebre, Dessale Berekhet Abraham and Ahmet sik. The four journalists received the 2013 CJFE International Press Freedom Award.
Admiring whistleblowers with integrity
20 years ago in a bloody military coup in Chile, General Augusto Pinochets’ soldiers rounded up thousands of citizens. The lucky ones escaped, at least three thousand died or “disappeared”.
Bob Thomson, a 28-year old civil servant in Ottawa at the time, was appalled by the secrecy surrounding the killings, and the lack of “true information” the Canadian public had access to. So, instead of ignoring the repression, as many others worldwide were doing, he covertly shared “classified” information with parliament and the press. In the subsequent furor, Canada accepted thousands of Chileans facing death or torture, and revamped our refugee acceptance policy. Seven thousand grateful Chileans (and their families) have Bob Thomson to thank. As for Thomson, the civil servant with a heart, a conscience, and nerves of steel, he was forced to resign. He spent seven years fighting to clear his name.
This kind of bravery, and personal sacrifice, builds a better nation, and makes a better press. And for that the CJFE awarded Thomson the second ever granted, Award of Integrity. The message? Whistleblowers are heroes who MUST be protected.