29 October 2008


A Sudanese journalist held in Guantanamo Bay for more than six years and a Zimbabwean reporter who exposed some of President Robert Mugabe's dirty tricks to maintain control of the country are this year's winners of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) International Press Freedom Awards.

Sami al-Haj was released from Guantanamo Bay in May, after being held without charge or trial since December 2001. He was arrested by Pakistani security forces near the Afghan border while covering for Al Jazeera the U.S.-led fight to oust the Taliban, then handed over to the U.S. military. No charges were brought against him - although he was accused of being an "enemy combatant", working as a money carrier for armed groups and assisting al-Qaeda.

Al-Haj was the only known journalist held at Guantanamo. During his detention, he was ordered to become an informant against Al Jazeera in exchange for freedom and a U.S. passport. But he refused, and instead launched a year-long hunger strike.

Al-Haj is now Al Jazeera's news producer for liberties and human rights affairs.

A reporter for the "Zimbabwe Independent" and a stringer for the "The Globe and Mail" in Canada, Shakeman Mugari has openly criticised the Zimbabwe government for abuse of power and failure to improve conditions for the over 80 per cent of Zimbabweans living in poverty. In a report published in "The Washington Post" in April, he exposed a military junta at work in Zimbabwe, cracking down on opposition parties in order to keep Mugabe in power.

Mugari sees journalism as the way out of the problems faced by the Zimbabwe, and as his own personal contribution in the fight to free the country. He and his colleagues at "The Independent" have been working without compensation for the last two years.

CJFE is also recognising Canadian journalist Jim Poling of Hamilton, Ontario with the Vox Libera Award, for his long-standing commitment to freedom of the press. As managing editor of news at the daily paper "The Hamilton Spectator", Poling created two year-long internships for foreign-trained journalists living in Canada.

"This year we honour three journalists who have never compromised their principles and journalistic integrity," said Carol Off, Chair of the CJFE Awards committee. "Our honourees embody the true essence of journalism and anti censorship - their efforts send a strong message that the truth cannot be silenced."

The awards will be presented in a ceremony in Toronto on 8 December. This year's event will also shine a spotlight on the challenges faced by photojournalists and videographers whose images drive home the horrors of war and repression.

For more on the award winners, including a list of the nominees, see: http://www.cjfe.org/awards06/about.html
(29 October 2008)