Michel Auger, the Quebec journalist who survived a brutal attack on his life on September 13, 2000, will be recognized tonight by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) with the Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award.
Auger, who specializes in covering biker gangs with "Le Journal de Montreal", was shot five times in the parking lot of the daily newspaper. He has since recovered, and the investigation into the attack is ongoing.
Journalist Joe Schlesinger, a panelist on the awards jury, said of Auger's pursuit of journalism, "This is in the spirit of the work that was done by Tara Singh Hayer and the spirit of the award."
The Tara Singh Hayer Award was inaugurated last year in memory of the editor of the "Indo-Canadian Times" who was killed on November 18, 1998. Hayer had continued to cover the Canadian Sikh community despite an assassination attempt in 1988 that left him partially paralyzed.
Auger will received the award during a gala banquet held at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto. International Press Freedom Awards will go to two journalists who risked death, beatings and loss of freedom in their search of truth.
Guest speaker at the dinner is author and journalist Michael Ignatieff, who has written extensively on freedom of expression and international affairs. Journalist Knowlton Nash will host the event.
More than 600 guests, including Canada's leading journalists such as Pamela Wallin, Peter Kent, John Stackhouse and Shelagh Rogers, will celebrate press freedom. Benefit co-chairs are Diane Francis, editor-at-large for the "National Post", and Brian Segal, President and CEO of Publishing and Online Services for Roger's Media. More than 50 corporate sponsors have helped raise funds that go towards the year-round work of CJFE in defense of freedom of expression and the rights of journalists. The Journalists in Distress Fund of CJFE has aided more than 20 journalists this year with over $35,000. Grants from the fund have helped journalists flee their countries before being rounded up, get medical attention after imprisonment or torture, and pay for legal representation to get journalists out of jail.
The journalists honoured this year with International Press Freedom Awards are Jineth Bedoya of Colombia and Akbar Ganji of Iran.
Bedoya is a military affairs reporter for "El Espectador" in Bogota. In May, she was kidnapped in front of a Bogota jail as she covered a dispute involving the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, a right-wing paramilitary group. When Bedoya arrived at the jail for a pre-arranged interview she was forced by gunpoint into a truck. Ten hours later a taxi driver found her on the outskirts of town, her hands tied. She had been beaten and sexually assaulted.
Despite the ordeal, Bedoya was back at work within months, covering the civil war in Colombia, where some 44 journalists have been killed in the past ten years. Another 33 journalists have been kidnapped in Colombia in the past two years. Bedoya will be present to accept her award this evening.
Akbar Ganji will not be able to attend the CJFE banquet as he is behind bars in Evin Prison in Tehran. Ganji, one of Iran's most prominent reformist journalist, was arrested in April when he returned to Iran from Berlin, having attended a conference on "Iran after the Elections." Ganji's reporting exposed government authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran who were responsible for killing Iranian intellectuals, poets, writers and academics.
Ganji was brought to Revolutionary Court in Tehran on November 9, 2000. He reportedly told the judge that he had been hung upside down in his cell whilst four prison guards kicked him in the head and stomach. He is believed to have started a hunger strike in protest against the treatment he has suffered, which includes 80 days in solitary confinement. He has been denied access to his family and his lawyer.
Ganji's imprisonment is part of a campaign against independent journalists by a conservative-dominated judiciary that began when reformists won a parliamentary majority in February. Since then, 15 reformist newspapers and ten magazines have been shut down, and 15 journalists and intellectuals are in prison. Several others are out on bail and awaiting trial.
The awards by CJFE recognize journalists who demonstrate a commitment to freedom of expression and who overcome enormous odds simply to produce the news.
These cases and others have been reported through the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a network of more than 50 journalism and press-freedom organizations worldwide. CJFE operates the IFEX Clearing House (www.ifex.org) which can mobilize campaigns against censorship and abuses suffered by journalists, writers and media organizations around the world.
For more information, contact Lisa Roberts at CJFE, tel: +1 416 515 9622, fax: +1 416 515 7879, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or Diana Crosbie, Crosbie Communications: (416) 360-6625, e-mail: email@example.com.