Nominees for 2023 RSF Press Freedom Prize
A total of 20 journalists, photographers and media outlets from all over the world, plus a journalists’ association, have been nominated for the 31st Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Awards, which will be held in Brussels on 28 November. As well as the three traditional prize categories – Courage, Impact and Independence – there is a new category this year: the “Lucas Dolega-SAIF” Photo Prize.
German TV journalist Annette Gerlach will host the awards ceremony, whose participants will also include Oleksandra Matviichuk, the 2022 Nobel peace laureate and head of Ukraine’s Centre for Civil Liberties, and the French comedian and journalist Daniel Morin.
This year’s 21 nominees, who are from 18 different countries, consist of 13 reporters, five press photographers, two media outlets and a journalists’ association. They have been chosen for their significant contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom.
The nominees are competing for the Prize for Courage, the Prize for Impact, the Prize for Independence and – this year’s new category – the Lucas Dolega-SAIF Photo Prize. Created in 2012 as a tribute to Lucas Dolega, a young photographer killed in 2011, and supported from the outset by the Society of Authors of Visual Arts and Still Images (SAIF), this photo-journalism award has now been incorporated into the RSF Press Freedom Prize.
Nominees for the Prize for Courage:
Maryna Zolatava (Belarus)
The editor of TUT.BY, the most popular Belarusian news site until the authorities shut it down, Maryna Zolatava was sentenced to 12 years in prison in March 2023. An emblematic figure, she has always fiercely defended the independence of her media outlet and the media in general, despite repeated harassment. “Blaming the media for all the problems is like taking offence at a mirror,” she wrote the day before her sentencing. She continues to write and send messages of hope from prison to resist the prison system’s dehumanising effects.
Mohamed Ibrahim Radwan (Mohamed Oxygen) (Egypt)
Known by the pseudonym of Mohamed Oxygen from his blog, Egypt’s Oxygen, Mohamed Radwan was placed under surveillance and not allowed to return to work when released in early 2019 after serving a five-year prison sentence. But when protests broke out in September of that year, he covered them regardless. His commitment to the right to information was seen as an act of defiance by the authorities. He was arrested and sentenced to another five years in prison for “publishing false news.” In today's Egypt, the name of Mohamed Oxygen is synonymous with courageous journalism.
Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi (Iran)
These two women journalists, who have become emblems of Iran’s “Women-Life-Freedom” protest movement, have been jailed since September 2022 for being among the first to cover Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody. Niloofar Hamedi, the correspondent of the daily Shargh, published a photo of this young Kurdish woman’s relatives in the Tehran hospital where she had been admitted. A reporter for the daily Ham Mihan, Elaheh Mohammadi covered Amini’s funeral. Accused of “conspiracy,” “propaganda” and “collaborating with the hostile US government,” they were sentenced to thirteen and twelve years in prison respectively on 22 October 2023.
Roberson Alphonse (Haiti)
Respected for his coverage of Haiti’s politics and its heavily armed gangs, the Le Nouvelliste journalist and Radio Magik9 news director Roberson Alphonse was badly injured in a clearly targeted shooting as he drove to work in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area on 25 October 2022. The attack left more than ten bullet holes in his car. His would-be killers have not been identified. Roberson Alphonse had to flee to the United States, where he resumed working remotely for the newspaper and the station as the crisis in Haiti worsened, with six journalists murdered there in 2022.
Benazir Shah (Pakistan)
Editor-in-chief of Geo Fact Check, she has also worked for Newsweek Pakistan as deputy-editor and senior reporter. Benazir Shah has taken the lead in a resistance movement against cyberbullying campaigns that target women journalists who show too much independence from the official line of the civil and military authorities. And she has herself covered very sensitive political and religious issues, such as polio vaccination campaigns, abhorred by Pakistan’s Islamists, and the phenomenon of women suicide bombers.
Nominees for the Prize for impact:
Christo Grozev (Russia)
The bête noire of Russia’s intelligence agencies and the Kremlin, this Bulgarian investigative journalist heads Russia investigations at the open source intelligence website Bellingcat. It was Christo Grozev who revealed the identities of the suspects in the 2018 poisonings of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom and Alexei Navalny’s poisoning in 2020, stealing a march on governmental intelligence agencies and paving the way for judicial and parliamentary investigations. Threatened by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), he had to leave Austria, the country where he was living, in February 2023. The Russian authorities placed him on their wanted list in December 2022 and a Moscow court ordered his arrest in absentia in April 2023.
Kavita Devi (India)
Kavita Devi is the co-founder and editor of Khabar Lahariya, a news website produced entirely by women from social groups and castes – including Dalits, Muslims and tribal communities – that have traditionally been denigrated in Indian society. As such, she helps to provide diverse, independently reported coverage of those who are – because of their gender, caste, social class, and so on – India’s traditional power holders, and she helps to promote better representation and more autonomy for Indian society’s more disadvantaged members.
Juan Pablo Barrientos (Colombia)
Last year, thanks to this journalist’s work, Colombia learned the identities of 26 Catholic priests who had been accused of sex crimes. The author of the book Dejad que los Niños Vengan a Mí (“Let the Children Come to Me”), Juan Pablo Barrientos had been persecuted and subjected to censorship attempts for seven years because of his investigations into this subject and corruption. His reporting has enabled Colombians to identify criminals and to fight against impunity.
AmaBhungane (South Africa)
Created in 2010, amaBhungane – “dung beetles” in the Zulu language – is an investigative media outlet that has exposed major corruption cases involving politicians and businesspeople in South Africa. It was amaBhungane that found evidence that the South African Football Federation paid a 10-million-dollar bribe to ensure that South Africa would be chosen to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Its latest revelations concern alleged conflicts of interest in the relations between President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government in Zimbabwe and the Moti Group, a South African business conglomerate with mining operations there.
Thanasis Koukakis (Greece)
A journalist who works for CNN Greece and the Financial Times, Thanasis Koukakis was one of the first targets of the Predator spyware. While justice for this arbitrary surveillance has still not been served, and the journalist has himself been the subject of an abusive procedure (SLAPP), he has investigated his own surveillance. The embodiment of journalistic rigour in pursuit of the truth, Thanasis Koukakis has shone an international spotlight on the opaque surveillance industry network behind the European Union’s biggest press freedom scandal in recent years.
Nominees for the Independence Prize:
Ihsane El Kadi (Algeria)
A journalist for 35 years who founded and ran Radio M and the Maghreb Émergent news site, Ihsane El Kadi has always defended journalistic independence and pluralism in Algeria. For this, he was subjected to judicial persecution including a six-month prison sentence in June 2022. An article and a tweet earned him a new arrest in December 2022. Six months later, he was sentenced on appeal to five years in prison on a spurious charge of illegally receiving funds from abroad. The culmination of vengeful and Kafkaesque judicial proceedings, this iniquitous sentence is one of the heaviest ever imposed on an Algerian journalist. His appeal in cassation was rejected by the Supreme Court on 12 October.
Jose Rubén Zamora (Guatemala)
The founder and editor of elPeriódico, a newspaper that exposed Guatemalan political corruption for two decades, Jose Rubén Zamora was subjected to growing threats and judicial harassment. In July 2022, he was arrested on a trumped-up money-laundering charge and spent almost a year in pre-trial detention, before his newspaper was forced to close in May 2023. His sentence of six years in prison in June 2023 was overturned on appeal on 13 October, but he remained in detention until a new trial was held.
The investigations and revelations by this newspaper, one of the few independent media outlets in Togo, have shone a light on domestic corruption and poor governance. L’Alternative has also participated in major international collaborative investigations such as the Panama Papers, which resulted in its arbitrary suspension by Togo’s High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication. To escape a heavy prison sentence, its publisher, Ferdinand Ayité, and its editor, Isidore Kouwonou, were forced to leave the country in March 2023.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
A non-profit organisation dedicated to defending press freedom in Hong Kong since 1968, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) stands as one of the last organisations to vocally advocate on behalf of journalists in the territory, following a government crackdown that has gutted civil society since the enactment of the National Security Law in 2020. Over the past decade, the organisation has worked independently to support journalists despite escalating harassment from the authorities.
Evi Mariani (Indonesia)
A former Jakarta Post managing editor, Evi Mariani began getting more and more involved in collaborative journalism initiatives until, in May 2021, she helped launch Project Multatuli, a new kind of media that promotes public interest journalism and focuses on segments of Indonesian society that are neglected by mainstream media. As such, it embodies the hope of a truly independent journalism that is essential for the consolidation of Indonesian democracy.
Nominees for the “Lucas Dolega-SAIF” Photo Prize:
Edward Kaprov, for The Face of latest war, Ukraine
Karine Pierre, for Take Me Home!, Pakistan
Adrienne Surprenant, for Un diamant dans une mer de sable ("A diamond in a sea of sand"), Tchad
Robin Tutenges, for Chinland, Birmanie
Adrien Vautier, for La bataille de Bakhmout ("The Battle of Bakhmut"), Ukraine
This year’s prize jury consists of leading journalists and free speech defenders from all over the world. They are Rana Ayyub, an Indian journalist and Washington Post columnist; Raphaëlle Bacqué, a leading French reporter for Le Monde; Mazen Darwish, a Syrian lawyer and president of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression; Zaina Erhaim, a Syrian journalist and communication consultant; Erick Kabendera, a Tanzanian investigative reporter; Hamid Mir, a Pakistani news editor, columnist and writer; Frederik Obermaier, a German investigative journalist with Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper; and Mikhail Zygar, a Russian journalist and founding editor-in-chief of Dozhd, Russia’s only independent TV news channel. As a result of the creation of the new “Lucas Dolega-SAIF” Photo Prize category, two well-known war reporters, Véronique de Viguerie and Patrick Chauvel, have joined the jury this year. The jury is chaired by RSF president Pierre Haski, a French reporter and columnist.