A dinner to recognize, reward and champion journalists struggling under dangerous conditions to cover important stories around the world will be held in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton Centre Hotel, Toronto. The second International Press Freedom Awards this year will feature guest speaker Madame Justice Louise Arbour, former Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal and the newest member of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Candidates for the Press Freedom Awards risk their lives reporting their stories. Many have been imprisoned, tortured and killed in the line of duty.
The 1999 winners - from Mexico, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan - carry on the tradition of courage under adversity and calm under fire. Their stories of harassment, censorship, imprisonment, beatings, systematic torture and economic reprisals will be told.
The dinner is sponsored by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). It will be attended by many of Canada's top journalists in print, television and radio, and by some of Canada's most influential business leaders. The benefit committee is co chaired by John Honderich of "The Toronto Star" and Diane Francis of the "The National Post". Host of the awards dinner will be the CBC's Rex Murphy.
The dinner raises funds to publicize, protect and educate journalists around the world, enabling them to uncover and report on crucial stories that otherwise would not be heard.
CJFE was founded in 1981, formerly known as the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists. It is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, dedicated to supporting international journalists - local as well as foreign correspondents- wherever they encounter obstacles to their pursuit of truth.
The 1999 International Press Freedom Awards go to Jesus Barraza Zavala of Mexico, Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto of Zimbabwe and Zafaryab Ahmed of Pakistan.
# Jesus Barraza Zavala is the editor of the newspaper "Pulso" in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora State, Mexico. He has written extensively on the local and international drug trade exposing links between drug traffickers and a former state governor, and between drug traffickers and the federal police. He had been editor of the newspaper "La Prensa", taking over from Benjamin Flores Gonzalez, who was murdered in July 1997 in retaliation for articles on the drug trade in Mexico. Barraza continues to receive death threats. A bodyguard hired to protect him was badly beaten by federal police unhappy about articles linking the police to drug pushers. Barraza risks his life every time he walks out in the morning.
# Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto of Zimbabwe work for the newspaper "The Standard" in Zimbabwe, Chavunduka as editor, Choto as senior writer. Chavunduka was illegally arrested by military police in Harare on January 12, 1999 because of an article regarding a possible coup attempt by the military in December, 1998. Both men were charged under the Law and Order Maintenance Act of 1960 for publishing false reports "likely to cause alarm, fear or despondency to the public..." Chavunduka was held in military barracks, then handed over to police on January 18, 1999. Choto was arrested by police on January 19, 1999. They were severely tortured by security agents during their time in prison. Released on bail, Chavaunduka and Choto traveled to England for medical treatment.
# Zafaryab Ahmed of Pakistan has worked as researcher, advocate and writer for the Bonded Labour Liberation Front in Lahore. His mission was to alert journalists around the world to the murder of 12-year-old child activist Iqbal Masih. For this he was arrested, accused of being a spy for India, and charged with treason. His passport and personal documents were confiscated and he was forbidden to leave the country. He remains on a confusing system of parole, checking in with the courts monthly, only to have his case delayed. He won an Oak Rights Fellowship at Colby College in Maine, which he completed in June 1999. Because he faces the death penalty at home, he sought political asylum in the United States. While he awaits a decision on whether he can remain in the United States he cannot work and is not eligible for social assistance. He travels the country, staying with friends. Of his work as a journalist-of-conscience, Ahmed has written: "I escaped death. Many have been condemned to death, in fake police encounters, in dark alleys, declared guilty without ever being given a chance to prove their innocence."
CJFE manages the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) which can mobilize campaigns against censorship and abuses suffered by journalists, writers and media organizations around the world. It also operates a "Journalist in Distress" fund which comes to the aid of persecuted journalists around the world. CJFE is supported by more than 350 working journalists, editors, publishers, broadcasters, producers, technical support staff, and interested citizens.
For more information and for tickets, please contact Lisa Roberts, (CJFE) Tel: (416) 515-9622 firstname.lastname@example.org.