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CPJ honours Premium Times publisher, others with International Press Freedom Awards

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DAPO OLORUNYOMI, Premium Times publisher and three other journalists have been honoured by the Committee to Protect Journalists with the 2020 International Press Freedom Awards for their courageous journalism over the years.

According to the organisers, all four honourees have been arrested or faced criminal prosecution from state authorities for their reporting.

The award which was held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, and was chaired by Patrick Gaspard, the president of Open Society Foundations, was hosted by Lester Holt, NBC’s veteran broadcast journalist.

Olorunyomi, who is Premium Times’ co-founder and CEO, was awarded for his decades-long journalism career which has been geared towards press freedom in Nigeria, amidst repeated government harassment and arrests.

He was arrested twice during the brutal Abacha junta in 1995 before going into exile at the time. More recently, he was again arrested alongside a colleague in 2017 when police raided the Premium Times headquarters on the allegations of defamation.

In his acceptance speech, Olorunyomi said the recognition reminds him of the important work that remains undone in the development of media and the struggle to deepen democracy.

Other awardees include Bangladeshi Shahidul Alam, Iranian Mohammad Mosaed, and Russian Svetlana Prokopyeva.

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Alam, a photojournalist and the founder of the Bangladeshi multimedia training organization, the Pathshala Media Institute and the Drik photo library, has a career spanning decades.

For 102 days, between August and November 2018, Mr. Alam was kept in custody and tortured by Bangladeshi officials after he posted a video to social media about student protests in the capital Dhaka.

Also, Mr. Mosaed, a freelance journalist who investigates corruption, labour issues, economic sanctions, and popular protests was forced to resign from a reformist newspaper, banned from practicing journalism, and sentenced to four years imprison for his critical reporting.

Not done, he began to publish his stories on social media platforms, but he was arrested in late 2019 in relation to a tweet and would be released in early 2020. By February, he was re-arrested for criticizing the Iranian government’s handling of COVID-19, CPJ wrote in a statement.

Meanwhile, Ms Prokopyeva, a regional correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, known as Radio Svoboda, was awarded for her experience in early 2019, when Russian authorities raided her home, seized her equipment and personal belongings, and detained her.

CPJ said she was charged with “justifying terrorism” and her bank accounts were frozen in relation to comments she made on liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy in 2018 when she discussed a suicide bombing attack. This month, she was convicted and ordered to pay a fine of 500,000 rubles (US$6,980).

“Like brave and committed journalists everywhere, CPJ’s honorees set out to report the news without fear or favor for the benefit of their communities, their country, and the world,” CPJ’s executive director, Joel Simon, earlier said.

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“They understood that they would confront powerful forces, enemies of the truth, who would try to stop them from doing their work. What they did not foresee was COVID-19.

“The global pandemic has not only made their jobs more difficult and dangerous, it has fueled a ferocious press freedom crackdown as autocratic leaders around the world suppress unwelcome news under the guise of protecting public health,” Mr. Simon added.

Meanwhile, Press right advocate group, CPJ, also honoured Amal Clooney, a lawyer, with the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.

Clooney was honoured for her pro bono legal representation of embattled reporters around the world, including Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of Reuters, who were jailed in Myanmar for 17 months.

According to CPJ, Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award is given annually by CPJ’s board of directors to recognize extraordinary and sustained commitment to press freedom.

 

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