RSF unveils shortlist of nominees for its 30th annual Press Freedom Awards
Fifteen journalists and media outlets from around the world have been shortlisted for the 30th annual Press Freedom Prize that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) awards in three categories – journalistic courage, impact and independence. Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, the 2021 Nobel peace laureate, will attend the awards ceremony in Paris on 12 December.
" For 30 years, the RSF prize has honoured the work of those who embody the ideals of journalism. In the digital age, the challenges facing journalism have evolved, but courage, independence and the pursuit of impact remain cardinal virtues. Those who embody them deserve to be honoured and supported. They will be at the 30th edition of the awards, which will be held in the presence of one of their most prestigious peers – Dmitry Muratov, the Russian journalist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021.
The winners of the 30th edition of the RSF Prize will be announced at a ceremony in Paris on the evening of 12 December. Dmitry Muratov will open the event, which will be hosted by French TV presenter Daphné Bürki and will include performances by singer Jane Birkin, who has been campaigning for journalists in Myanmar.
Three former RSF laureates will present the individual prizes. They are Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist and specialist in Turkey’s media; Lina Attalah, cofounder and editor of the independent Egyptian newspaper Mada Masr; and Matthew Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist and son of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese journalist who was killed in 2017 by a bomb placed in her car.
Prize for Courage
The Prize for Courage is awarded to journalists, media or NGOs who demonstrate courage in the practice, defence or promotion of journalism in a hostile environment and despite threats to their freedom or safety.
Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro (Nicaragua)
Director general of the independent newspaper La Prensa since 2019, he was forced to announce the end of the newspaper’s print edition on 13 August 2021 because of a newsprint shortage orchestrated by President Daniel Ortega’s government. The police seized control of the newspaper's installations and arrested Holmann the same day, taking him to the Judicial Assistance Directorate detention centre, known as the “torture cells.” Held there ever since, he has not been able to speak to a lawyer and has been allowed only seven family visits. In March 2022, he was given a nine-year prison sentence on a charge of money laundering, despite a lack of evidence to support the charge. La Prensa continues to exist in digital format and is now run from a location outside Nicaragua. It has never stopped reporting the news on its website, not even for a minute.
Mahmoud Al-Otmi (Yemen)
A freelance journalist originally from Al Hudaydah, a port city now controlled by the Houthi rebels, he has been covering Houthi human rights violations for Yemeni media outlets since 2014. He began receiving telephone threats soon after founding the almmarsa.com website in Aden in 2018, in which he focuses on Yemen’s Houthi-ruled western provinces. His brother was jailed the following year in reprisal, and his father was forced to sign a document disowning him. A few months later, the Houthis managed to identify his car and the place where he lived. On 9 November 2021, his car was blown up as he was driving his wife, fellow journalist Rasha Al-Harazi, to hospital to give birth. She and the baby died on the spot. Al-Otmi was badly injured but survived. He is now based in the United Arab Emirates, where he continues to work.
Huang Xueqin (China)
A journalist, former Xinquaibao and Southern Metropolis Weekly investigative reporter, Sophia Huang Xueqin has worked in recent years to promote women’s rights, and to document and expose sexual harassment against women and girls, especially in the media environment. Sophia was arrested on 19 September 2021 in the southern city of Guangzhou together with labour activist Wang Jianbing under suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. She was arrested while preparing to leave China to study in the United Kingdom. Huang Xueqin was also previously detained for three months in 2019 under the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” for covering the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In 2021, her article on female activist Li Qiaochu, published by Initium Media, received an award for Excellence in Reporting on Women’s Issues from the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA).
Narges Mohammadi (Iran)
Repeatedly imprisoned during the past 12 years for fighting for press freedom and human rights, Narges Mohammadi is a symbol of courage. Even in prison, she has not stopped providing information about the appalling plight of prisoners in Iran, especially women prisoners. Her life has been a battle in which she has had to make many sacrifices so that her voice could be heard. Married to a journalist, Taghi Rahmani, she has two children she has not seen grow up, having spent only a few months out of prison since 2011. Despite having heart problems, she has been mistreated and tortured and has been given 154 lashes. But she does not lose hope and continues to call for civil disobedience, always with a smile on her lips. She has written dozens of articles from prison, has made a documentary and has even published a book entitled White Torture, based on her interviews with 16 prisoners.
Han Thar Nyein (Myanmar)
Arrested barely a month after the February 2021 military coup in Myanmar, Han Thar Nyein was one of the first targets of the junta’s persecution of independent journalists. The military had good reason to go after him. A decade ago, he co-founded Kamayut Media, a news agency that provided the world with reliable and original coverage of what was happening on the ground in Myanmar – a mission that he wanted to continue despite the coup. He is currently being held in the sadly notorious Insein prison on the outskirts of Yangon, where he has been subjected to extreme violence and torture, burns all over his body, rape threats and death threats. His Kamayut Media colleague Nathan Maung, a US citizen who was arrested at the same time as him, was quickly released thanks to diplomatic negotiations. But Han Thar Nyein had the misfortune to “be born only Burmese” and must continue to resist in prison.
Prize for Impact
The Prize for Impact is awarded to journalists, media or NGOs whose work has led to concrete improvement in journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism, or to an increase in awareness of these matters.
Mstyslav Tchernov et Yevhen Maloletka (Ukraine)
Reporting for the Associated Press, they were the only journalists to have documented the impact of the fighting and artillery bombardments in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol for 20 days in March 2022 for the international media. Their photo of a pregnant woman injured in the shelling of a maternity hospital went around the world and drew international public opinion’s attention to what was happening in the besieged city. They worked in extremely difficult conditions, with the Russian army looking for them because of the impact of their photos, but they were helped by the population, who were aware of the importance of their work.
Kavita Devi (India)
The co-founder and director of Khabar Lahariya, a news website operated solely by women journalists from rural areas, she has become a symbol and voice for the forgotten fringes of Indian society, for rural populations that don’t speak English or even Hindi. As she was born to a family from the Dalit community (formerly known as “Untouchables”) and was married off at the age of 12, her life should have followed the traditional path of home, children and livestock. But she managed to study and, with other students, founded Khabar Lahariya in 2002, rising to the challenge of imposing women journalists in the traditionally male-dominated media sector and turning the spotlight on the social, ethnic and religious discrimination suffered by India’s marginalised rural populations. She has thereby helped Indian society advance towards more representativity and citizen autonomy, and pluralist journalism independent of the traditional power centres.
Adama Dramé (Mali)
Without his determination, the Birama Touré case would have petered out. The director of the Malian investigative weekly Le Sphinx, he has been battling tirelessly ever since his reporter Birama Touré disappeared in Bamako one night in January 2016. An investigation carried out jointly by Dramé and RSF established that Touré was abducted, tortured and almost certainly killed in a state security detention centre for taking too close an interest in the activities of Karim Keïta, the son of the then president, who was ousted in a coup in 2020. Karim Keïta fled to Côte d’Ivoire after the coup but the Malian authorities have issued a warrant for his arrest, while the former head of Mali’s intelligence agency, Gen. Moussa Diawara, has been arrested in connection with Touré’s disappearance. These unexpected developments would not have happened without the revelations in which Dramé participated. Fearing for his life, Dramé has had to flee the country but he continues to investigate the case and hopes one day to find out exactly what happened to his missing reporter.
Amazônia Real (Brazil)
Founded in 2013 by two women, Katia and Elaize, Amazônia Real is an independent journalism agency based in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state. Run exclusively by women, it produces ethical and investigative journalism, interviews those who are rarely seen in the mainstream media, and publishes multimedia reports on the impact of climate change, flooding and deforestation on the region’s indigenous communities and minorities, describing their lives and telling their stories. The national media have picked up its recent reports about clashes between police and illegal gold panners, the use of new industrial pesticides and the seizure of land from local communities. A non-profit organisation, it has chosen not to accept funding or resources from the state or from any person or company implicated in environmental crimes, forced labour or violence against women. When Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira were murdered in June 2022, it produced many reports shedding light on the circumstances of their death and the work of the media in the Amazon.
Reporters United (Greece)
Reporters United is a network of reporters aiming to support investigative journalism in Greece, collaborate in cross-border investigations with international journalists and media, and publish stories that often struggle to find their place in the Greek press. It is extremely careful about the transparency of its funding and about its independence. Although subjected to intimidation lawsuits (SLAPPs) and denied access to state-held information, Reporters United has exposed major scandals, including spying on journalists, environmental abuses and corruption in Greece’s management of migration. As a rare island of journalistic professionalism in a sea of media polarisation and government propaganda, it must grapple with the major problems for press freedom in Greece, the EU country that is ranked worst in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index.
Prize for Independence
The Prize for Independence is awarded to journalists, media or NGOs for resisting pressure (including financial, political, economic or religious pressure) or because of the values and rules that enable them to resist.)
Awarded the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2005 and the City of Paris Medal for Heroes of Information in 2016, this privately-owned TV channel continues to operate in Kabul despite constant pressure from the Taliban since they took control of the country on 15 August 2021. It is one of Afghanistan’s biggest privately-owned TV news channels, and its impartial, fact-based reporting reflects the best principles of journalism. By continuing to operate, it emphasizes the fact that unbiased reporting can and must be maintained in any circumstances. It is for this reason that it is nominated for its independence in Afghanistan.
Omar Radi (Morocco)
This investigative reporter and human rights activist has been subjected to judicial harassment for covering corruption and other sensitive subjects for more than ten years. The authorities began investigating him on suspicion of spying in June 2020, shortly after Amnesty International reported that the Pegasus spyware had been used to hack into his phone. A month later, he was jailed on the basis of a rape allegation and ended up being tried simultaneously on the completely different rape and spying charges, increasing doubts about the fairness of the trial. He was sentenced to six years in prison in July 2021. The authorities had been targeting him for at least three years prior to this trial. He began a hunger strike in April 2021 in protest against his detention but had to abandon it after 21 days because he suffers from Crohn’s disease, and has been in very poor health ever since.
Lady Ann Salem (Philippines)
She embodies journalism’s future in the Philippines, a new generation of journalists following the trail blazed by Maria Ressa. For this, she was subjected to red-tagging and was jailed in December 2020 on terrorism and “leftism” charges after police planted guns in her Manila home. A court ruled that her arrest was “null and void” in February 2021 but she had to wait another month before being released. She edits Manila Today and cofounded Altermidya, an alternative media network that prioritises in-depth articles, field reporting and investigations, and cover the fringes of Philippine society that the mainstream media ignore. A member of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), she also fights for women’s rights.
Bettie K. Johnson Mbayo (Liberia)
This independent investigative journalist turned down all funding offers from government representatives when she founded The Stage Media (Liberia), a fact-checking and investigative journalism entity, in 2020. She is one of Liberia’s most authoritative sources of news and information. Her investigative reporting has documented and denounced at least six major scandals involving politics, corruption, human rights and the problems of women in her country. After she exposed one corruption case, senior officials offered her a contract to do public relations work for the government. She turned it down. Her family has also been pressured. After a story about a woman forced to remain in hospital because she couldn’t pay her hospital bill, Mbayo’s husband, who is a doctor, was threatened by the hospital’s director. He is often accused of “not controlling his wife.” The couple have also been offered international research grants in an attempt to get them to leave the country.
Bolot Temirov (Kyrgyzstan)
Harassed and spied on by the authorities, Kyrgyzstan’s best known investigative reporter resists judicial persecution and blackmail and continues to post his video reports on his YouTube channel, Temirov Live. As well as being prosecuted for possession of drugs (slipped into his pocket by the police during a raid in February 2022), he is being sued by the Kyrgyz Petroleum Company over one of his videos in three criminal cases opened in April. Domestic videos of him filmed with a hidden camera have been “leaked” online and the police have interrogated his wife and Temirov Live employees. He nonetheless persists in posting his investigation reports, which are mostly about corruption.
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. The jury is chaired by RSF president Pierre Haski, a French reporter and columnist.