RSF reiterates support for Finnish journalist denied US prize

US officials told Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro in January that she was to be one of the recipients of the US State Department’s annual International Women of Courage Award for her coverage of Russian disinformation. But they contacted her again a few weeks later to say there had been a mistake. It seems someone had spotted her tweets criticizing Donald Trump.

Aro has been tirelessly investigating Russia’s disinformation methods since 2014 and has been repeatedly harassed and threatened for her trouble. The State Department’s explanation for the mistake was “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.”

But the US magazine Foreign Policy quoted sources as saying the decision was taken by nervous mid-level State Department officials after Aro’s social network posts were drawn to their attention. “I use Twitter to exchange ideas and share information freely,” Aro said. “I find the idea of US government officials stalking my Twitter and politicizing my perfectly normal expressions of opinion deeply disturbing.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) points out the decision is inconsistent with the values proclaimed by the award, which is given to women who “have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.”

Aro has been the target of online disinformation campaigns since her revelations about Russian troll factories in 2014. Last October, a Helsinki court imposed jail terms and heavy fines on two pro-Kremlin Finnish activists for harassing her online.

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Updated on 19.03.2019